A single drinking binge in late pregnancy could harm
child development, research on rats from the University of
The evidence on how drinking can damage brain cells has been
released by neuroscience researcher Dr Paul Shoemack.
''It's a difficult situation. It may make people think
twice,'' he said.
Dr Shoemack (28) graduated from the university with a PhD in
neuroscience in a recent ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall.
His study, involving a rat model, had shed new light on the
impact of a single drinking bout on ''subtle undiagnosed
anomalies with the foetal alcohol spectrum disorders''
''Drinking during pregnancy is an ongoing issue in New
Zealand, in particular binge-like episodes resulting in high
blood-alcohol concentrations in the third trimester,'' he
''The brain cell losses I found were pretty large for one
single [drinking episode].''
Drinking during early pregnancy could result in children
being born with distinctive facial changes, arising from
But his research also showed later strongly adverse effects
on young rats from ''a single alcohol binge'', at a
development stage equivalent to the human third trimester.
Brain cells were lost in the alcohol-affected animals, by up
to 49% in part of the hippocampus region of the brain, and
40% in another key part.
His research also showed some significant changes in
behaviour among young adult rats, resulting from an earlier,
single-bottle-of-wine-equivalent dose of alcohol.
An anxiety test showed a later reduction in ''response
inhibition'' and an increase in risk-taking behaviour, in
high dose animals.
Subsequent cell loss of 30% or more had also been shown in
adult rats after a much smaller dose of alcohol, equivalent
to consuming two or three glasses of wine.
''These findings further endorsed the fact that no amount of
alcohol is safe during pregnancy,'' he said.
His research clearly showed that some children who were not
visibly affected by facial changes resulting from foetal
alcohol disorders could nevertheless be adversely affected in
other ways, he said.
Such other changes could impair parts of their overall
development and affect their ability to learn at school.
• Single alcohol binge during late pregnancy could cause
strong harm to children.
• Research involved young rats (equivalent to human third
• Up to 49% of brain cells lost in hippocampus, and 40% in
another part of brain.
• Significant changes in behaviour, resulting from equivalent
to drinking up to a bottle of wine.
• Reduction in ''response inhibition'' and more risk-taking