“For this work, we developed an AI-based algorithm that takes high-resolution 3D images of the face and produces 200 unique measurements or ‘features,'” explained Professor Gennady Roshchupkin from Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam.
“We analyzed them to look for associations with prenatal alcohol exposure and developed heat maps to show the particular facial features associated with maternal alcohol consumption.”
Mothers who did not drink for three months before becoming pregnant or at any point before the birth of their child were the control group and were compared with women who drank before conception but stopped while pregnant and women who drank throughout pregnancy.
The team found that even women who drank less than 12g of alcohol per week, equivalent to a 330ml beer or a 175ml glass of wine, in the three months before pregnancy had babies with slightly altered faces.
Professor Roshchupkin told the Telegraph that there was a significant link between this small level of alcohol intake before pregnancy and facial changes.
“We found a statistically significant association between prenatal alcohol exposure and facial shape in nine-year-old children,” said Xianjing Liu, the study’s first author and PhD student.
“The more alcohol the mothers drank, the more statistically significant changes there were.”
The algorithm found that children exposed to alcohol in the womb were more likely to have turned-up noses, short noses, turned-up chins and turned-up areas associated with the lower eyelids.
“Mirror of Health”
The changes had faded and were not detectable by the computer system until age 13, and scientists say that even by age nine, when the computer found the differences, the differences would not have been noticeable to the human eye.
Professor Roshchupkin says the face is a “mirror of health” as it reflects a child’s overall well-being and that this study shows that alcohol exposure can lead to deeper problems.
“It’s important to emphasize that the face is simply a reflection of overall health,” he told the Telegraph.
“So it means that along with the differences in faces there may be some other effects of alcohol on health. We, of course, don’t know for sure, but it’s best to be extra cautious and we need to investigate further.”
He added: “It is important to emphasize that there is no established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and that it is advisable to stop drinking even before conception to ensure optimal health outcomes for both mother and baby. developing fetus’.
“Further investigations into the mechanism of association are needed to fully understand how the association develops and then decays with age.”
The findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction.