Tags: cousin | marriage | risks

Risks of Cousins Marrying Overstated

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:27 PM

The health risks of marrying a cousin have been far overstated, according to a new book based on research that indicates laws banning such unions aren’t backed by cousin marriage aren't supported by scientific studies.
In his controversial new book “Consanguinity in Context,” author and medical geneticist Alan H. Bittles of Murdoch University in Australia argues a better understanding of the health impacts of cousin marriage could lead to more appropriate laws and better care for such couples and their children.
The book examines several misconceptions about cousin marriage, including the belief by opponents that such unions increases the risk of passing on genetic abnormalities. But Bittles sad 35 years of research indicate the risks are actually quite low.
Children whose parents are close relatives have a slightly greater average risk of inheriting genetic disorders, Bittles said. But studies of cousin marriages worldwide indicate the increased threat is just 3 percent to 4 percent higher than the population and the risks apply primarily to couples who are carriers of disorders that are normally very, very rare.
"For over 90 percent of cousin marriages, their risk [of having a child with a genetic abnormality] is the same as it is for the general population," he said.
What's more, many studies don’t account for non-genetic factors on infant health, such as socioeconomic status, maternal diet during pregnancy, and infections.
Cousin marriage is a serious taboo in the Western world. In the United States, 31 of 50 states ban marriage between first cousins. But the practice is more common in other parts of the world. In South Asia and the Middle East, for example, 20 percent to 50 percent of marriages are between first cousins or closer relatives, Bittles noted.
Charles Darwin and his wife Emma were first cousins. So were Darwin's grandparents.
One surprising advantage of marriage between close biological relatives is the removal of disease genes from the gene pool, Bittles said. Because of this, marriage between close relatives in early human populations kept the prevalence of genetic disorders low.

© HealthDay

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Health problems associated with marriages between close relatives are very rare, despite popular beliefs.
Tuesday, 01 May 2012 12:27 PM
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