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Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Slow Teenage Brain Development

A team of researchers have found that children whose mothers drank even moderately during pregnancy suffered from dulled mental development.

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By Bryan Le

08/05/14

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In yet another turn on the debate whether it is okay for pregnant women to drink, a group of researchers has found that even moderate alcohol consumption can slow the development of their kids' brains well into their teenage years.

According to their findings, children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) show weaker brain activation during mental tasks—and it doesn't only happen to kids of heavy drinkers either; moderate drinking is enough.

“Functional magnetic resonance imaging has been used to observe brain activity...in children with FASD, but we are the first to utilize these techniques to look at brain activation over time," said lead researcher Dr Prapti Gautam.

The researchers hoped to find the root cause of the attention problems present in children with FASD who show symptoms including cognitive impairment, poorer intelligence and attention, and central nervous system abnormalities.

During childhood and adolescence, brain function gets a huge boost in growth, so the researchers wanted to observe FASD-affected and unaffected kids in a first-of-its-kind longitudinal study over the span of two years.

Using an MRI scanner, they measured the kids' brain activation during mental tasks in which the kids were to observe spatial relationships and tested their working memory.

“There were significant differences in development brain activation over time between the two groups…while the healthy control group showed an increase in signal intensity over time, the children with FASD showed a decrease in brain activation during visuo-spatial attention," said study author Dr Elizabeth Sowell.

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