Some brands of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages contain more alcohol than is advertised on the label
Pregnant women drinking non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages may be putting their babies at risk because some brands contain more alcohol than is advertised on the label, according to a study released today by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
The researchers bought 45 different beverages claiming to contain no alcohol or have low alcohol content (less than 0.5 per cent) from grocers in the greater Toronto area. They bought the drinks in threes from different lot numbers (when available). They then tested the beverages for ethanol concentration using a process called gas chromatography.
The analysis revealed that 13 beverages contained ethanol levels that were higher than those stated on their labels.
“I think there’s a big issue with misleading the public about alcohol,” said Gideon Koren, one of the study’s authors, who works with the Motherisk program in the hospital’s clinical pharmacology and toxicology division.
Scores of non- or low-alcoholic wines, de-alcoholized beers and coolers are available from grocers in Canada.
“This is what we purchased at corner stores, the way a Canadian would purchase,” said Dr. Koren, who holds the Research Leadership for Better Pharmacotherapy during Pregnancy and Lactation at the Hospital for Sick Children.
The researchers are concerned about pregnant mothers who consume the beverages in “large volumes.”
“Pregnant women seeking replacement for alcoholic beverages may be misled by these labels, unknowingly exposing themselves and their unborn babies to ethanol,” they write.
Ethanol can damage the developing embryo and fetus, but doctors remain divided over whether small amounts can harm an unborn child.
“The problem for all of us is that alcohol is bad for the fetus but we do not know how little causes harm. It could be that even low amounts could be problematic,” Dr. Koren said.
Although many doctors advise pregnant women to err on the side of caution and abstain from drinking altogether, some moms-to-be find it difficult to stop and use a plethora of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol wines, coolers and beers as a substitute, the authors say.
Dr. Koren said part of the problem lies in the fact that many of the products are “quenchers” – soft-drink-type coolers that are easy to throw back in quantity.
“When we drink wine, we sip – it’s not a thirst quencher. Here, people might drink very differently.”
He added that the mislabelling can be “problematic at many levels.”
“We’re talking pregnant women, but how about the driver? You don’t need to be legally drunk to be a risk on the road.”
The researchers are agitating for the beverage makers and regulatory agencies to take a closer look at the drinks.
“A potential contributor to the alcohol detected within the beverages may be the degradation of fruit,” the authors write. “However, manufacturers of the beverages should be aware that alcohol is generated through the degradation process and have mechanisms to monitor and ensure that ethanol remains below the limit stated on their labels.”
The drinks are regulated by Health Canada’s Food and Drugs Act. Gary Holub, media relations with Health Canada, said last Thursday that the agency is reviewing the study and will comment today.
Brands that tested within advertised alcohol levels include Carl Jung, Casal Domingo, Labatt Nordic Low and Molson EXEL.
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