According to Science Daily, recent MRI studies have revealed that even modest amounts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have long-term consequences on a child’s brain development. Researchers will report their findings at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting, which is being held this week in Chicago (RSNA).
“Fetal MRI is a highly specialized and safe examination method that allows us to make accurate statements about brain maturation prenatally,” said Dr. Gregor Kasprian, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of radiology at the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.
When a pregnant woman uses alcohol, her kid is more likely to develop a group of health conditions known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Infants with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may have developmental deficits in cognition, behavior, and language.
Patric Kienast, M.D., Ph.D. student, and primary author, regrets that “unfortunately, many pregnant women are misinformed of the impact of alcohol on the fetus throughout pregnancy.” As a result, we owe it to society to examine the consequences of drinking alcohol while pregnant and disseminate this information to the public.
The researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging scans of 24 children who had been exposed to alcohol while still in utero. The fetal MRIs were performed between weeks 22 and 36 of pregnancy. A poll was performed under a pseudonym to ascertain the level of moms’ alcohol consumption. The T-ACE Screening Instrument, a four-question assessment tool designed to detect risk drinking, and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), a surveillance initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Health Departments, were used.
When compared to age-matched controls, babies exposed to alcohol during pregnancy exhibited a lower fetal total maturation score (fTMS) and a shallower right superior temporal sulcus (STS). The STS is essential for learning new languages, strengthening listening abilities, and broadening one’s view of the world. Dr. Kasprian discovered that the temporal lobe and superior temporal sulcus were the most impacted areas of the brain.
The STS, in particular, has been demonstrated to have a significant impact on children’s verbal development. Even at minimal levels of alcohol use, abnormalities were seen in fetal brains. Dr. Kienast investigated twenty-four moms, and the average weekly alcohol use was less than one drink. However, prenatal MRI allowed us to discover major anomalies in these infants.
Two of the moms drank four to six times each week, while the remaining three drank one to three times per week. The average single mother used alcohol at least 14 times each week. Six of the moms also admitted to binge drinking (consuming more than four beers at once) while carrying their children.
The researchers believe that fetal brain development delays are caused by a failure to correctly myelinate the brain towards the end of the perinatal period, as well as a lack of gyrification in the frontal and occipital lobes.
Myelination is required for the brain and nervous system to operate properly. Messages might potentially travel faster if myelin protects and insulates nerve cells. Myelination is connected to important newborn milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and language development. Gyrification is the process through which the cerebral cortex develops folds. Despite the fact that the skull has limited space, the folding increases the surface area of the cortex. When gyrification decreases, function decreases.
Dr. Kienast advises pregnant moms to be completely sober. Our findings reveal that even moderate drinking is associated with long-term alterations in brain architecture and a delay in full brain development in adulthood. There has been no conclusive research on how these anatomical alterations in neonatal brains appear over time.
Dr. Kienast has stated that additional examinations will be needed after the children who were tested as fetuses have reached a certain age. “In any event, it is reasonable to conclude that the changes we found contribute to the possible cognitive and behavioral challenges these children may have.”