Image: Flickr / Vanessa Porter

Binge drinking before pregnancy may affect children

New research from Rutgers University indicates that women who binge drink before pregnancy may be more likely to have diabetic children.

It broadly understood that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause negative effects on the unborn child. However, a new experiment on rats from Rutgers University in New Jersey now shows that similar defects can come from drinking before women are pregnant.

An excessive drinking amount for women is approximately four or more drinks in a short space of time, such as two hours.

Professor Dipak Sarkar led the study on lab rats as rats share the basic processes of glucose function with humans. Female rats were given a diet of 6.7% alcohol for four weeks to raise their blood alcohol levels to match those of excessive drinkers.

Professor Sarkar, director of the endocrine research programme, said: “The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behaviour problems.”

“However, it is not known whether a mother’s alcohol use before conception also could have negative effects on her child’s health and disease susceptibility during adulthood.”

Alcohol was subtracted from the rats’ diet, then they were bred after three weeks – equivalent to several months in humans. The adult offspring of these rats were compared with the offspring of unaffected rats that did not have alcohol before conception.

Once the rats’ offspring became adults, researchers observed their blood glucose and insulin levels along with their contributing glucagon and leptin hormones.

Results showed that the rats’ offspring exposed to alcohol before conception had abnormal glucose function including higher blood glucose levels and lower insulin in their blood and pancreatic tissue.

Evidence surfaced that alcohol exposure prior to conception will also increase some inflammatory markers in pancreatic tissue. Co-author of the study and doctoral candidate, Ali Al-Yasari, said this means that insulin production and action on the offspring’s liver can reduce.

Al-Yasari suspects that the increased expression of the inflammatory markers may be how pre-conception alcohol uses divergent glucose function in the offspring.

He concluded: “These findings suggest that the effects of a mother’s alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring.”

“These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring’s glucose function and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes.”

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