A study at the University of California–Riverside examined the effect that alcohol consumption by parents has on the development of their children during pregnancy. And what they found should give anyone of either sex considering parenthood reason to pay attention.
The experiments were conducted on mice. This was one of the first studies to investigate paternal alcohol exposure as opposed to maternal. What researchers discovered is that when male mice who were exposed to alcohol were mated with female mice who were not, their offspring demonstrated a lack of development in the neocortex, which governs sophisticated cognitive and behavioral functions. Abnormal genetic developments led to damaged brain connections resembling Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), according to a report by Neuroscience News.
“People have known about the dangers of maternal drinking during pregnancy for years,” Kelly Huffman, Associate Professor of Psychology, said. “However, the safety of paternal drinking while trying to conceive has barely been considered.”
Male mice were given alcohol regularly for two to three weeks before they were mated with female mice who were not exposed. The resulting offspring exhibited changes in their neocortical gene expression and connectivity, and also demonstrated increased anxiety, hyperactivity, impaired coordination, and reduced motor function. This parallels observations in the offspring of alcoholic fathers.
Previous experiments showed that even a single exposure of the paternal mouse to alcohol prior to conception could adversely affect his offspring.
Male offspring also appeared to be more strongly affected by prenatal alcohol exposure than the female offspring.
Additionally, earlier research by the team showed that paternal alcohol exposure during conception could lead to adverse effects on offspring over multiple generations – not only the first generation.
Maternal prenatal alcohol drinking has been investigated in earlier experiments. In those cases, mouse offspring exhibited decreased body weight, as well as lesser brain weight and size, and significant deviations in the development of the neocortex and brain circuity was observed also.
In a corollary study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to choline as well as alcohol. They were given 25% alcohol and approximately 640 milligrams per liter of choline chloride supplement. The team discovered that adding the choline reduced abnormalities in the offspring that are typically associated with alcohol exposure. Thus, choline may be a remedy for prenatal alcohol exposure in human mothers as well.
Choline is a methyl group donor that produces methyl that attaches to DNA and then aids gene expression, which in turn assists healthy brain development. The researchers therefore believed that exposing female mice to choline as well as alcohol would lessen the negative impact of the latter – and this thesis was borne out by the evidence.
The team which conducted the study plans to continue it to see whether these effects can persist through further generations of offspring.
In the meantime, however, the lesson seems clear: if you’re planning to have kids anytime soon, whether you’re a man or a woman – you need to lay off the booze for a while.