Researchers may have finally discovered why secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.
In a hard-hitting study, Australian scientists now believe smoking in the home increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome because the nicotine in secondhand cigarette smoke targets and damages infant brain cells responsible for regulating heart rate, respiration, sleep, and arousal.
"Passive [secondhand] smoking has long been identified as a risk factor for SIDS, but the biological mechanisms that lead to death was unknown until now," says researcher Dr. Rita Machaalani.
This study is a follow-up to research from 2007 that proves any smoke exposures contributed to brain cell death in babies, whether through a mother smokes during pregnancy or via secondhand smoke exposure after birth. Of 67 babies who died of SIDS in the research group, researchers found that 81 percent had been exposed to cigarette smoke. However, new toxicology reports showed that these children had damage in brain stem cells known to be receptive to nicotine. As researchers point out, the same brain cells that are prone to damage from nicotine are also responsible for controlling certain vital functions—and this is the underlying connection between smoking and SIDS.
"We were able to show that there is cell death in a region of the brain that plays a major role in the control of breathing and heart function in babies who died of SIDS compared to those who died of other causes," says Dr. Machaalani.
As FOX News reports, cases of SIDS have decreased by 85 percent in the past 25 years due to safe sleep education programs that recommend babies be placed on their backs to sleep. But "the most outstanding risk factor [for SIDS] is tobacco smoke and it's one of the hardest ones to shake," Ros Richardson, from SIDS and Kids NSW, tells FOX.
Thinking about quitting? Or need someone else in your house to quit? According to this study, if you stop secondhand smoke exposure, you may be able to reduce your baby's risk for SIDS by a whopping 80 percent. Now that's motivation!