A Small Glass of Wine During Pregnancy OK? Recent Study Says No
While some people believe that small to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy will not harm a fetus, recent research out of the University of California, Riverside contradicts this notion. Putting it bluntly, “If you consume alcohol when you are pregnant you can disrupt the development of your baby’s brain,” said researcher Kelly Huffman.
What differentiates the UC Riverside study from previous research is the discovery of how ethanol impacts the fetal brain. Huffman and her colleagues determined that ethanol exposure causes a disruption in the connectivity of neural networks in a forming brain, potentially leading to behavioral changes.
Alcohol Affects Neural Connectivity
In the research study, alcohol dramatically altered the gene expression and development of neural connections in the neocortex of mice. Although much smaller and less complex, the neocortex structure of mice is similar to that of humans. In both species this part of the brain takes care of high-end comprehension and thought, hearing, vision, motor skills, balance, touch, language, and emotion.
The prenatal alcohol exposure in mice led to wrong parts of the brain becoming connected to each other. “This research helps us understand how substances like alcohol impact brain development and change behavior,” says Huffman. “It also shows how prenatal alcohol exposure generates dramatic change in the brain that leads to changes in behavior.”
The research team found that brain alteration in the mice was particularly severe in the frontal cortex that governs decision-making, planning, attention, judgment, risk-taking, motor-skill learning, executive function and sociability.
Although researchers expected to see some brain circuitry disruption in their mice subjects, they had presumed it would be subtle and were surprised that the result of alcohol exposure was so significant. The affected mice demonstrated increased levels of anxiety, problems with fine motor coordination, and social disengagement. These are the types of behaviors noticed in children with FASD (fetal alcohol syndrome disorders).
Huffman pointed out that although this study used moderate to high doses of ethanol exposure, other studies have revealed that smaller doses also alter development of key brain receptors.
Should You Drink At All During Pregnancy?
Huffman believes that women attempting to get pregnant or who are pregnant should not consume alcohol. She sees very little difference between drinking during pregnancy and putting liquor in a baby’s bottle. While some may find this statement extreme, most mothers-to-be prefer any error to be on the side of caution.
“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,” said Huffman.
Source: Science Daily