A new study has suggested that grandmothers who smoked during pregnancy may have triggered autistic traits in their grandchildren.


The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, was carried out by scientists at the University of Bristol. In it, they analysed data from 14, 500 participants in the Children of the ‘90s study.


The results revealed that there was a 53 per cent greater risk of being diagnosed with autism for the granddaughters of women who smoked while pregnant. Furthermore, these females were found to be 67 per cent more likely to suffer poor social communication skills and repetitive behaviours.


So, why were females only affected? The researchers have a theory: they believe that smoking may damage the mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down through the female line.


Commenting on the study, lead author Professor Jean Golding explained: “We already know that protecting a baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things a woman can do, to give her child a healthy start in life.



“Now we’ve found that not smoking during pregnancy could also give their future grandchildren a better start, too.”


Honing in on the specific link between grandmothers and their grandchildren, co-author Professor Marcus Pembrey added: “We know smoking can damage the DNA of mitochondria – the numerous ‘power-packs’ contained in every cell, and mitochondria are only transmitted to the next generation via the mother’s egg.


“The initial mitochondrial DNA mutations often have no overt effect in the mother herself, but the impact can increase when transmitted to her own children.”


The health risks of passive smoking for children has been long established. They are said to include an increased risk of the following:

  • Sudden Infant Death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Respiratory infections
  • Slower lung growth
  • Middle ear disease
  • Nasal irritation
  • Low birth weight


What are your thoughts on the new report?