New study shows how low-level alcohol use during pregnancy could impair a child’s brain development

Low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy could have implications on a child’s brain development, increasing the risk of psychiatric disorders in youth, a new study from the University of Sydney concluded.

Released in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study implicated close to 10,000 children around the age of nine and ten. Given the scope of the sample, the study is purported to be the largest of its kind investigating low-level alcohol use during pregnancy.

According to the Australian-based research group, 25 percent of the participants were exposed to alcohol in the womb, 60 percent of which had been exposed to low-level alcohol use, and 40 percent to excessive levels.

Low-level alcohol use was comprised of the consumption of one to two drinks per occasion or six drinks per week. Excessive exposure to alcohol was associated with seven or more drinks per week or three or more drinks per occasion.

In the study, the participants exposed to low-levels of alcohol in the womb were more likely to have experienced behavioral or psychological problems later in youth. Light alcohol exposure was linked to a 25 percent higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, the new research suggests.

Light alcohol exposure could also impact a child’s brain development, as the participants exhibited greater cerebral and regional volume and greater regional surface area, the study also found.

“Prenatal alcohol exposure of any severity was associated with greater psychopathology, attention deficits, and impulsiveness, with some effects showing a dose-dependent response,” the co-authors explained in their journal article.

“Resting-state functional connectivity was largely unaltered in children with in utero exposure. Some of the psychological and behavioral outcomes at baseline and at the 1-year follow-up were partially explained by differences in brain structure among youths who had been exposed to alcohol in utero.”

All in all, the findings demonstrate that any alcohol use during pregnancy could have implications possibly resulting in significant psychological and behavioral problems in children.

“Women should continue to be advised to abstain from alcohol consumption from conception throughout pregnancy,” the co-authors concluded in their findings.

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