A new study conducted by Rutgers University revealed some distressing results concerning the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Although it is widely known that drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant is dangerous for a developing fetus, researchers now say that it could be altering the baby's DNA as well.
Lead author Dipak K. Sarkar, who is a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Endocrine Program in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says the team used a previous Rutgers-led study about the effects of alcohol use on adult DNA. In combining those results with the new study's data and analysis, the study revealed some interesting new findings.
Analyzing the genes of 30 pregnant women and 359 children, the team found that two genes, in particular, were altered in those women and children exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. These changes, found specifically in the POMC (stress-response system) and PER2 (biological clock) genes, were evident in those exposed to moderate to high levels of alcohol during pregnancy (the women themselves included).
Published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Sarkar says that "our research may help scientists identify biomarkers -- measurable indicators such as altered genes or proteins -- that predict the risks from prenatal alcohol exposure." These biomarkers can help not only identify the exposure but help treat the effects as well.
Some of the main risks of consuming alcohol while pregnant, aside from POMC and PER2 gene alteration, are fetal alcohol spectrum disorders which can lead to both physical and intellectual disabilities, and behavioural issues. Furthermore, alcohol exposure can increase cortisol levels in developing babies since alcohol can travel across the placental barrier. Increasing the amount of this stress hormone can have detrimental effects on a baby's developing immune system and overall health.
Sarkar says that the evidence they found may allow for earlier recognition and intervention for children exposed to alcohol in utero and could help minimize the damage that may have already been done. In addition, these findings could also help educate the public on just how dangerous it is to consume alcohol while pregnant (hopefully lowering the statistics).