Non-syndromic cleft lip and palate: could stress be a causal factor?

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Wallace, GH, Arellano, JM & Gruner, TM 2010, 'Non-syndromic cleft lip and palate: could stress be a causal factor?', Women and Birth, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 40-46.

The publisher's version of this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2010.08.001

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The aetiology of non-syndromic cleft lip and palate has as yet not been clearly defined. Familial relationships, environmental toxins and nutritional status have all been considered without conclusive results, although in some studies a potential link between non-syndromic cleft lip and palate and any one or more of these factors has been proposed. Elevated stress, particularly an extended term of traumatic stress, can lead to oxidative damage at the cellular level via hypothalmus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, high cortisol and cytokine production. The effect of this hormonal shift is to re-direct the blood supply to the mother's muscles, thereby reducing the supply to the placenta, causing a potential nutritional deficiency which may then result in a genetic alteration in the foetus. Mothers with a child aged two years or younger who had been born with a cleft, who were members of CleftPals, a family support group, volunteered to be participants in this qualitative study. The research first called for a survey to be completed by the mother and this was then followed by an interview conducted by the researcher. The study involved families living in the three eastern States of Australia. The results suggest that physical and/or emotional stress may well be implicated in clefting. While little work has been done in considering stress as a causal factor, the existing literature suggests, as does this study, that elevated stress levels at, or soon after, conception appear to affect foetal development.

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