- WASHINGTON - Researchers
say they're able to show how a mother's drinking causes brain damage in
- The tests show rats, and probably humans, are vulnerable
when the synapses -- the connections between neurons -- are being built.
In humans, this begins in the sixth month of pregnancy and lasts until
about two years after birth.
- Dr. John Olney, a Washington University School of Medicine
researcher, led the study published in the journal Science. According to
him, during this brain-growth spurt in rats, a single sustained contact
with alcohol lasting for four hours or more is enough to kill vast numbers
of brain cells.
- His research did not say how much alcohol a woman would
have to drink to cause such damage in her baby.
- Olney says that one glass of wine during dinner is unlikely
to cause the damage, but he couldn't say that any added intake would be
safe: "The most prudent policy would be to have no alcohol during
- Other studies have shown drinking in pregnancy can result
in fetal alcohol syndrome, characterized by stunted growth along with memory
and learning problems in children.
- He says the tests in rats show that ethanol (alcohol)
causes widespread brain damage in the developing brain which fetal alcohol
researchers have not found before.
- After the brain is exposed to ethanol, says Olney, there
is a massive wave of cell suicide.
- Normally, about 1.5 per cent of neuron cells die during
brain development. But in the young rats exposed to alcohol just days after
birth, the dead neurons ranged from five to 30 per cent of the total.
- The binge used in the study gave the rats a blood-alcohol
level of 200 milligrams of alcohol per decilitre of blood.
- Researchers suggest the development of the baby rat brain
is similar enough to humans to draw conclusions from the experiments.
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