How Alcohol During
Pregnancy Causes Brain
Damage In The Unborn

WASHINGTON - Researchers say they're able to show how a mother's drinking causes brain damage in unborn babies.
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 pregnancy."
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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