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Prenatal Nutrients And Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

June 23, 2009

Doctors are searching for new ways to protect unborn babies from the dangerous health impacts caused by a drinking mother.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 12 percent of pregnant mothers drink at some point during pregnancy, while about 2 percent admit to binge drinking.

Drinking during pregnancy can result in adverse affects on a child’s brain. It can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is the largest preventable cause of mental retardation among children.

Fetal alcohol syndrome can result in facial abnormalities, growth problems, and developmental and behavioral problems, as well as other birth defects, according to the CDC.

Scientists have been searching for an effective nutrient that would help alleviate the negative impacts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Dr. Jennifer Thomas of San Diego State University has begun research involving a prenatal nutrient called choline, which is commonly found in egg yolks, wheat germ, and cooked beef, chicken, veal and turkey livers.

“There’s not going to be a single treatment that’s going to be a panacea,” Dr. Thomas told the Associated Press.

She tested choline in a group of pregnant rats that were introduced to alcohol during the third trimester. She found that by giving the mother and the babies extra doses of choline, their mental abilities were increased later in life despite the early introduction to alcohol.

Dr. Christina Chambers of the University of California, San Diego told the AP that there is now “heightened interest” in the search for treatments to combat the health impacts of a drinking mother.

Chambers has begun clinical trials on pregnant women in Ukraine, where fetal alcohol syndrome is more common than in other regions of the world.

Chambers says that nutrients may be the key to unlocking how to fight the impacts of drinking during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption can block the body’s ability to ingest certain nutrients, some of which are key to brain development.

Women involved in Chambers’ study already admit to consuming alcohol during pregnancy. While they will be counseled to stop drinking, the mothers will also be given either a standard daily vitamin supplement or the vitamin in addition to 750 milligrams of choline. That dose is about 300 more mg than is recommended for pregnant mothers.

So far, Chambers has recruited 120 pregnant women into the study, and preliminary findings are expected within one year, researchers told the AP.

In addition to the research being led by Chambers and Thomas, Australian researchers have reported findings to suggest that zinc supplements were effective in protecting fetal mice from early exposure to alcohol.

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