The fact that women shouldn’t drink while pregnant is about as well known as the fact that you shouldn’t shake a baby. However, new research suggests that when it comes to binge drinking, you don’t have to be pregnant to negatively affect your future kids.
According to a press release issued by the Loyola University Health System, a new study found that repeated binge drinking in adolescence could affect the brain function of future generations. It may even increase future offspring’s risk for depression, anxiety and metabolic disorders.
Using animal models, the study found that adolescent binge drinking altered the on-off switches of multiple genes in the brains of offspring. It is the first study to show how teenagers who binge drink can affect the neurological health of future generations.
“Adolescent binge drinking not only is dangerous to the brain development of teenagers, but also may impact the brains of their children,” senior author Toni R. Pak, PhD, said in the press release.
Dr. Pak is an associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
To conduct the study, researchers exposed a group of adolescent male and female rats to alcohol in amounts comparable to six binge drinking episodes. The rats mated when sober and females remained sober throughout their pregnancy to rule out any chances of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Researchers then compared the alcohol-exposed rats to a control group of non-alcohol-exposed rats. In the offspring of alcohol-exposed rats, researchers looked at genes in the hypothalamus, part of the brain involved in reproduction, and their response to stress, sleep cycles and food intake.
Researchers found many molecular changes to DNA that could reverse the on-off switches in genes. They found 159 changes in the offspring of binge-drinking mothers, 93 changes in offspring of binge-drink fathers and 244 gene changes in offspring whose parents both participated in binge-drinking.
Researchers said these findings don’t necessarily extend to humans, but they point to the significant similarities between the animal model and humans, including their metabolism of alcohol, the function of the hypothalamus and the pattern and amount of binge drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as a drinking pattern that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This generally happens when men consume five or more drinks and women consume four or more drinks in two hours.
Underage drinking is a huge problem among American adolescents. In fact, people between the ages of 12 and 20 drink more than 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the US, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Perhaps more troubling is the fact that young people consume 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking.
The full study was presented at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting for the Society of Neuroscience.
The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The authors declared no conflicts of interest.
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