Beer in your baby’s bottle?

Pregnancy: the smallest amount of alcohol causes miswiring of brain circuitry

"Would You Put Beer In Your Baby's Bottle?", Healthy Living Magazine, Parenting

"Would You Put Beer In Your Baby's Bottle?", Healthy Living Magazine, Parenting

While many people believe a little alcohol consumption during pregnancy is safe, a groundbreaking study from neuroscientists at the University of California at Riverside shows there is absolutely no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Drinking even the smallest amount caused miswiring of brain circuitry in a mouse study meant to parallel similar effects on the human fetus. The result is increased anxiety and damaged motor activity and completely mixed up brain wiring.

Alcohol alters gene expression and tangles up connections in the neocortex, they said. This part of the brain accounts for our most intellectual thoughts and achievements including vision, hearing, touch, balance, motor skills, language and emotion. Drinking even small accounts causes this network of nerves to connect to the wrong sites during pregnancy. It’s like getting the workers building one’s home drunk.

“If you consume alcohol when you are pregnant you can disrupt the development of your baby's brain,” Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside and lead author of the study that was published in the November 27 Journal of Neuroscience, the official, peer-reviewed publication of the Society of Neuroscience, said. “This research helps us understand how substances like alcohol impact brain development and change behavior. It also shows how prenatal alcohol exposure generates dramatic change in the brain that leads to changes in behavior. Although this study uses a moderate- to high-dose model, others have shown that even small doses alter development of key receptors in the brain.”

The alcohol caused miswiring in intraneocortical connections joining the frontal, somatosensory and visual cortex in baby mice exposed to alcohol during gestation due to mother’s drinking. The front cortex got the brunt of the alcohol damage. It directly controls how we use our motor function to learn skills, make decision, plan, make a judgment, pay attention, take risks and function socially.

Both mice and humans share similar neocortex regions. “I was surprised that the result of alcohol exposure was quite dramatic,” she told the press. “We found elevated levels of anxiety, disengaged behavior, and difficulty with fine motor coordination tasks.” These “are the kinds of things you see in children” with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Next, Huffman intends to see if the effects carry over to a third generation. While some public health experts say a little alcohol, Huffman says forget about it: women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should abstain from drinking alcohol.

“Would you put whiskey in your baby's bottle? Drinking during pregnancy is not that much different,: she said. “If you ask me if you have three glasses of wine during pregnancy will your child have FASD, I would say probably not. If you ask if there will be changes in the brain, I would say, probably. There is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.”

H. El Shawa, C. W. Abbott, K. J. Huffman. Prenatal Ethanol Exposure Disrupts Intraneocortical Circuitry, Cortical Gene Expression, and Behavior in a Mouse Model of FASD. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (48): 18893 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3721-13.2013
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