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Maternal Drinking Linked to Brain Impairment in Children

Update Date: Nov 25, 2012 12:33 PM EST

A new study suggests that expectant mothers who drink during pregnancy may have children with altered brain structure and metabolism, visible with the help of various imaging techniques, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). 

According to the study, maternal drinking can cause hampered mental and physical development in their children - a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome, Medical Xpress reports. 

The study reveals an incidence of 0.2 to 1.5 per 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the help of advancements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers are now able to look into the effects of maternal drinking during pregnancy on the central nervous systems of children. 

Researchers from Poland used three different MRI techniques to determine these effects in 200 children exposed to alcohol during their prenatal stage. They compared it with the scan results of 30 children whose mothers abstained from drinking during pregnancy and lactation. 

The researchers evaluated the size and shape of the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers that forms the major communication link between the right and left halves of the brain, in the two groups, the report said. 

The impairment or complete absence of the corpus callosum is majorly attributed to maternal drinking and the scan results revealed a statistically significant thinning of the corpus callosum in the children exposed to alcohol. 

"These changes are strongly associated with psychological problems in children," said Andrzej Urbanik, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. 

Also, the researchers used diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) to study six areas of the CNS in the children and found that children in the alcohol group showed significant increases in diffusion on DWI. 

"The increase of diffusion indicates neurological disorders or damage to the brain tissue," Dr. Urbanik said. Even while studying metabolism in the brains of the children, a complex collection of metabolic changes was found by the researchers in children from the alcoholic group when compared to the other group.

"In individual cases, we found a high degree of metabolic changes that were specific for particular locations within the brain," Dr. Urbanik said.

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