Skip to comments.Studies: Alcohol Damages Fetal Brain Cells/Lead and Schizophrenia
Posted on 02/15/2004 8:46:33 AM PST by nuconvert
Studies: Alcohol Damages Fetal Brain Cells
By PAUL RECER AP Science Writer
SEATTLE (AP) -- Just two cocktails consumed by a pregnant woman may be enough to kill some of the developing brain cells in the unborn child, leading to neurological problems that can haunt a person for a lifetime, new studies suggest.
Dr. John W. Olney, a brain researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, said his studies show that alcohol can cause nerve cells in the developing brain to commit suicide.
And, based on animal studies, it doesn't take much alcohol to have this effect, Olney reported Friday at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Two cocktails, in most women, is enough to elevate alcohol levels in the blood to 0.07 percent, he said. The animal studies show that in unborn mice this concentration is enough to kill developing brain cells.
"That amount of alcohol would cause a state of intoxication just under the legal limit, which is 0.08 percent in most states," he said.
A single glass of wine may not be a problem, but "if one glass leads to another, and then another on the same day, that is a different matter" because it keeps the alcohol concentration at a toxic level long enough to be damaging. He said studies in mice show that just one hour at 0.07 percent is enough to kill fetal neurons.
Olney said his studies show that when neurons in the developing brain fail to make new synaptic connections, they are programed to commit suicide, a process known as apoptosis. Making the synaptic connections, part of building a network in the brain, begins during the sixth month of gestation in humans and continues for several years after birth.
Alcohol interferes with making the new synaptic connections, causing the cells to die. And alcohol is not the only chemical that has this effect.
Olney said his mouse studies show that medical anesthetics can also cause the death of fetal neurons. So can some of the so-called "party drugs," he said.
As a result, Olney recommended that pregnant women should avoid exposing their unborn to general anesthetics whenever possible, even if it means delaying some surgeries until after delivery. He said the short-term use of painkilling drugs during labor do not put the fetal brain at risk.
In another study, Columbia University psychiatrist Ezra Susser said his research team has found evidence suggesting a link between a pregnant woman's exposure to lead and the development years later of schizophrenia in her children.
Susser said lead as a cause of some schizophrenia is still an unproven theory. But he said a study of blood samples taken from pregnant women in Oakland, Calif., between 1959 and 1966 shows that children whose mothers had higher levels of lead in the blood were about twice as likely to become schizophrenic later in life.
New studies on the effect of lead on the unborn child are now under way in other cities, and proof of his theory must await those results.
The blood samples from the Oakland mothers were taken before unleaded gasoline became the norm, and consequently, pregnant women were exposed to higher levels of lead in the atmosphere.
But Susser said that his studies suggest all levels of lead exposure are dangerous for unborn children.
"There is no level at which lead is safe," he said. "We get to lower and lower points in our studies and there seems to be no level that will not have a prenatal effect."
It seems unfair, until you consider these problems.
Thank you! The elevation of every crackpot hypothesis out there to the status of a theory is ridiculous.
Peter Marshall: "George, true or false: Excessive consumption of alcohol can destroy brain cells".
George Gobel: "Well Peter, I'll go with the obvious and say......the Civil War".
The oldest one known, the perfectability of man through intervention.