Not even one glass of wine a week is safe during pregnancy because ‘ANY amount of alcohol damages nerves in unborn babies’ brains’
- Researchers led by a scientist in China scanned the brains of 40 teenagers
- They found those whose mothers drank during pregnancy had more issues
- Electrical activity was reduced in a vital ‘bridge’ of nerve fibres in the brain
- The team warn any alcohol at any stage of pregnancy could be damaging
No amount of alcohol is safe for women to drink while they’re pregnant, according to research.
Drinking can harm the development of a baby’s brain in any quantity or at any stage during pregnancy, scientists found.
In a study on teenagers, scans revealed a pattern of brain damage in those who had foetal alcohol syndrome, caused by alcohol exposure while in the womb.
Despite clear warnings, many British mothers still drink while expecting – one in six children have signs of alcohol damage, scientists found last year.
Researchers led by Xi’an Jiaotong University in China said their study, in which they scanned the brains of teenagers and found those exposed to alcohol in the womb had more nerve damage, shows t’here is no safe amount or safe stages during pregnancy for alcohol consumption’ (stock image)
Researchers led by Xi’an Jiaotong University in China examined the brains of 40 teenagers.
More than half of them (21) had mothers who drank during their pregnancy, and 19 had mothers who didn’t drink.
They found the corpus callosum – a part of the brain which links the left and right halves – was unhealthier in alcohol-exposed children.
This part of the brain is a bundle of nerve fibres which creates a bridge across the brain’s central divide.
People with connection issues in these nerves have in the past been found to be more likely to suffer from schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, autism and depression, the scientists said.
WHY SHOULDN’T PREGNANT WOMEN DRINK ALCOHOL?
Pregnant women shouldn’t drink alcoholic drinks because the chemical can pass into their baby’s body.
The liver is one of the last organs to finish growing in the womb, so babies exposed to alcohol may not have any natural defences against its harms – in grown people the liver filters it to reduce damage.
Drinking during the first trimester can raise the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, or a low birth weight.
Whereas drinking later in the pregnancy increases the chance of the baby being born with health problems.
Babies of mothers who drank regularly in pregnancy may develop a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome.
This can cause physical deformities (notably the eyes can be set far apart, and a large forehead and thin upper lip can develop) as well as disability.
Babies with severe foetal alcohol syndrome may have learning difficulties, behaviour problems or even develop cerebral palsy.
Around 6,000 to 7,000 babies are thought to be born in the UK every year with foetal alcohol syndrome, according to the charity Mencap.
‘This work presents major evidence that children exposed to alcohol prenatally are at risk of suffering from impaired cognitive abilities,’ said the study’s lead author, Lin Gao.
‘Our study… shows that there is no safe amount or safe stages during pregnancy for alcohol consumption.’
The Chief Medical Officer for the UK, Dame Sally Davies, has for years urged women not to drink at all while they’re pregnant.
Exactly how alcohol damages babies’ brains has been unclear to scientists, but this direct damage to the corpus callosum could be a key discovery.
The differences were found by scanning the brain’s natural electrical activity using a process called magnetoencephalography.
This involves using an extremely sensitive machine to record normal impulses in the brain and build a map of how well different sections work.
Scientists in Bristol and Cardiff last year revealed around 79 per cent of British children born in the 1990s were exposed to alcohol while in the womb.
Their study of screening tests on 13,500 children said 17 per cent of babies had worse brain development because of their mothers’ drinking.
Research leader Dr Cheryl McQuire, of the University of Bristol, said in November: ‘The high rates of prenatal alcohol use and FASD-relevant symptoms that we found in our study suggest that [foetal alcohol syndrom e] is likely to be a significant public health concern in the UK.
‘Guidance states the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all if you are pregnant, or think you may become pregnant.’
The Xi’an Jiaotong University research was published in the journal Chaos by the American Institute of Physics.
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