Even a Single Drinking Binge May Cause Brain Damage
Don't drink when you're pregnant - we've all heard the general warnings, but exactly how much is too much? Some health experts claim that expectant mothers can safely consume small amounts of alcohol (one drink per day) and still deliver a healthy baby, while others warn of the potential effects of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) - impaired growth, learning and coordination difficulties, and deformed facial features.
According to a study published in the February issue of Science, even the smallest amount of alcohol can jeopardize fetal health. Researchers administered a 20% solution of alcohol to seven-day-old rats in two separate treatments given two hours apart; a control group was treated with a saline solution for comparison. Twenty-four hours after the initial treatment, large numbers of neurons had been deleted from several major regions of the developing brain in the group exposed to alcohol.
Although the study involved rats, the authors are quick to point out that this developmental stage (the first two weeks of birth in rats) coincides with human fetal development from the sixth month of pregnancy until birth. They warn that if a pregnant mother consumes alcohol for even a few hours in a single drinking episode, she could be putting her developing fetus at risk for neurological damage. Consult your team of health care professionals during pregnancy to ensure the health and safety of your child.
Ikonomidou C, Bittigau P, Ishimaru MJ, et al. Ethanol-induced neurodegeneration and fetal alcohol syndrome. Science, Feb. 11, 2000: Vol. 287, pp1056-60.