Monthly Archives: July 2017

Any Level of Alcohol During Pregnancy Results in Craniofacial Anomalies


Prenatal alcohol exposure typically leads to fetal alcohol syndrome and associated disorders. Muggli and colleagues found that even low levels of alcohol exposure are linked to craniofacial anomalies in children, which may indicate cognitive disorders even at low levels of alcohol exposure.

Expectant mothers are told to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can result in fetal alcohol syndrome or related disorders, in which infants experience developmental and cognitive disorders, including motor and speech problems. In addition, many children diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome appear to display specific craniofacial characteristics. However, assessments of craniofacial shape tend to be simplistic.

To investigate the relationship of prenatal alcohol exposure to craniofacial disorders, Muggli and colleagues published a study in JAMA Pediatrics in which they linked craniofacial characteristics in children to varying degrees of alcohol consumption by the mother. Their sample consisted of 415 white Australian children, aged 12 months. They assessed craniofacial shape holistically using 3-D images. They also assessed the level of alcohol exposure in utero, including low, moderate, high, and binge-level alcohol exposure. The control group consisted of children of mothers who abstained from alcohol entirely.

Muggli and colleagues found a consistent association between craniofacial shape and alcohol exposure during pregnancy, regardless of the level or timing of alcohol exposure. However, these changes were most marked among children with the highest levels of prenatal alcohol exposure. Further, these changes were significant only for mothers who reported feeling the effects of alcohol “quickly” or “very quickly”, and not among those whose mothers reported feeling the effects of alcohol at a normal rate.

These results suggest that drinking at low levels may result in both visible changes to craniofacial shape in children, as well as invisible developmental and cognitive disorders. However, it is likely that maternal metabolism of alcohol plays some role in determining the extent of these effects.

Written By: C.I. Villamil

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“It’s inappropriate:” New alcoholic Pop Shoppe drinks raise concerns about youth appeal


New alcoholic Pop Shoppe beverages are sweetening shelves this summer, but some experts on alcohol policy are worried that the drink could be particularly attractive to youth.

The Pop Shoppe, a Canadian brand that sells retro-style soda in glass bottles, launched a “Hard Cream Soda” and a “Lime Ricky Hard Soda” this spring, with a seven per cent alcohol content.

The sweet, vodka-based drinks come in brightly coloured tall cans featuring the classic Pop Shoppe logo.

It isn’t the first brand to have a spinoff alcoholic beverage — Snapple has a “spiked” iced tea, for example, and Hires Root Beer makes a vodka beverage.

Ashley Wettlaufer, research co-ordinator at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said the Pop Shoppe drinks have a “very concerning” potential to appeal to youth.

She pointed to the colourful, cartoon-like label, sugary taste and familiar “Pop Shoppe” logo — a soda brand many adolescents may already know and drink.

Norman Giesbrecht, a CAMH scientist who specializes in alcohol policy, said he also imagines a scenario where a child might mistake the hard soda for regular pop.

“It’s inappropriate and risky marketing,” he said. “I’m just baffled why this product was approved.”

Spokespeople for Pop Shoppe say that their hard soda is not targeted at youth — their nostalgic, retro-themed marketing is actually aimed at people older than 40.

Most of their customers are people with fond memories of going to Pop Shoppe stores as a kid in the ’70s, said Stefan Kergl, vice-president at Beverage World Inc., which owns the Pop Shoppe brand.

That nostalgic focus would make the drinks less appealing to young people, said Mathieu Gagnon-Oosterwaal, co-founder of Blue Spike Beverages, which manufactures the alcoholic beverage.

“The best way to make a product unappealing to a younger crowd is to advertise it to their parents,” he said, adding that he has not heard any concerns about the product.

The labelling on the cans makes it “pretty obvious” they contain alcohol, he said. The cans say “hard soda,” “7 per cent” and have “Alcoholic vodka beverage” in small lettering at the bottom. The hard soda also comes in cans, while the regular soda is sold in bottles, said Gagnon-Oosterwaal.

Guidelines from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario say alcohol can’t be packaged or advertised in a way that appeals “either directly or indirectly” to minors. An LCBO spokesperson said the hard soda adheres to these guidelines, as well as to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s labelling requirements and the LCBO’s internal standards.

Giesbrecht, however, said the Pop Shoppe packaging goes against the “spirit” of not marketing to youth.

“The artwork to me seems very youthful-oriented,” said Giesbrecht, who believes alcohol packaging should include warning labels. “I think it’s a mixed message, frankly.”

In an email, an AGCO spokesperson said alcohol packaging and advertising doesn’t need to get prior approval from the commission.

“However, if the AGCO were to receive a complaint from a member of the public … AGCO would investigate,” he said, adding that they have received no complaints about Pop Shoppe beverages.

These kinds of sweet, pre-mixed drinks are sometimes called “alcopops,” said Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. These innocuous-seeming drinks are particularly enticing to adolescents and women, she said.

“It’s an entry drink,” she said. “It looks like pop. It doesn’t act like pop.”

With so much focus on regulating tobacco and legalizing marijuana, Wettlaufer said provincial governments should also look at strengthening alcohol guidelines.

Ottawa has banned menthol cigarettes, which they say could appeal to young people, and is trying to implement plain packaging on tobacco products. The federal task force on marijuana legalization has also recommended plain packaging on cannabis.

With alcohol, however, the trend seems to be toward increased marketing and accessibility, said Giesbrecht, noting that beer and wine are now available in Ontario grocery stores.

by Laura Howells

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Parents warned against giving children alcohol in attempt to supervise drinking

By Lauren Waldhuter

Parents who introduce their teenage children to alcohol in the hope it encourages better drinking habits in adulthood could be doing more harm than good, researchers have found.

The University of Adelaide team surveyed 2,800 students aged from 12 to 17 to provide a comprehensive snapshot of their drinking habits and influences.

While rates of teen drinking are reducing, the research found 7.6 per cent of children as young as 12 drank alcohol occasionally, but the figure rose to 66.3 per cent by the age of 17.

At 16 years of age the number of drinkers exceeded the number of non-drinkers at 59.5 per cent.

Lead researcher Jacqueline Bowden said parents were mistaken if they believed it was better to introduce underage teenagers to alcohol.

“[Parents] are thinking they should be doing the right thing by encouraging drinking within the safe environment of the home,” she said.

“But we’re actually saying don’t be purchasing alcohol for teenagers because it encourages heavier drinking, and drinking in the earlier ages.”

She said, surprisingly, the results showed young people did pay attention to what their parents thought about alcohol.


“What we found was that teenagers that were aware their parents didn’t condone their alcohol consumption were much less likely to drink alcohol,” Ms Bowden said.

“The evidence is really clear: role modelling is really important so we need to be aware of our drinking around our children.

“We also need to be setting clear expectations around alcohol consumption in children.”

Joshua Laviolette, 17, has chosen not to drink alcohol largely because of his mother’s own attitude.


“My mum doesn’t drink at all. I’ve never seen her drink at the house,” he said.

“I’ve never seen her drink out, so I just decided not to because I think it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s not really that hard. I just tell [friends] I don’t want to drink because I don’t really feel like it.”

The report found neither social disadvantage nor gender were significant factors, and that young people were most likely to access alcohol if they could afford it.

Ads on Instagram target teen girls


Asahi Premium Beverages was recently slammed for its Vodka Cruiser marketing campaign, pitched at young women.

Advertisements on an Instagram account depicted a young woman with glitter under her eyes, with the caption “how to cover your dark eye circles the morning after”.

A report by the Advertising Standards Bureau said the posts depicted “a face of a girl who appears to be a young teenager”, and that “other Vodka Cruiser Instagram posts also appear to be directed to children”.

The ads have since been pulled, after a complaint by the Cancer Council’s Victorian branch.

Cancer link ignored by teens

Adelaide University’s research found the majority of young people were not thinking about the long-term health effects of alcohol, which can contribute to a range of diseases including cancer.

Only 28.5 per cent of those surveyed thought alcohol could increase a person’s risk of cancer.

“This latest evidence highlights the need to educate young people about the consequences of alcohol consumption and for parents to demonstrate responsible drinking behaviour,” Cancer Council SA chief executive Lincoln Size said.

“We need to get the message through that what may be considered harmless fun actually has lifelong consequences.”

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More reproductive choices for Alberta women


A medical abortion drug, Mifegymiso, is now available to all women in the province at no cost to them. Alberta is the second province in Canada to introduce universal coverage for Mifegymiso.

“Women’s reproductive options should not be determined by their income or where they live. For far too long, women in rural communities have had to travel to major urban centres to receive a surgical abortion. By providing universal coverage for Mifegymiso, we’re supporting greater choice for women when it comes to their reproductive health.”

Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health

Mifegymiso may be used to terminate a pregnancy of up to 49 days. The manufacturer is currently seeking an extension of the drug’s approved use to include medically terminating a pregnancy of up to 63 days. Before taking the drug, women must undergo an ultrasound to rule out potential health risks and to determine the age of gestation.

“This medication has been the gold standard for medical abortion care around the world for almost 30 years and we are grateful it is now available to women here.  Kensington Clinic has been offering Mifegymiso since January 2017 and has found it to be safe and effective. Most importantly, it will ensure women truly have reproductive choice by improving access across Alberta.”

Celia Posyniak, executive director, Kensington Clinic

“Alberta has shown exemplary leadership in implementing a program that recognizes the incredible potential for Mifegymiso to address ongoing barriers and increase health equality. They have demonstrated that cost coverage is both necessary and possible. That is why we expect all provincial and territorial governments to commit to cost coverage programs of at least the same calibre as Alberta’s before the health ministers’ meeting in the fall of 2017.”

Sandeep Prasad, executive director, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights

Health Canada approved Mifegymiso in July 2015. It first became available in Canada in January 2017 at a cost of approximately $300. It was recommended for public drug plan coverage by the Common Drug Review in spring of this year. Under Health Canada approval, physicians should complete a training program before prescribing Mifegymiso. Any pharmacist can then dispense it.

How ‘pre-pregnancy’ health changes could help your baby


You’ve probably heard that you should avoid things like caffeine, alcohol, and smoking when you’re pregnant.

But does it matter beforehand?

More women are now planning for babies by also worrying about their “pre-pregnancy” health.

When lifestyle blogger Chloe Arnold and her husband decided they were ready to start a family, they both started making changes.

Some of their biggest changes included a new home closer to parents, and a new, healthier lifestyle.

“Gosh, a lot changed! [We] started being more intentional about working out, started taking prenatal vitamins in advance,” Arnold explained, “We went from eating whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, to just being really intentional about what foods we put in our bodies.”

Call it the “pre-pregnancy” prep: cleaning up your act before you get that life-changing news.

Doctors said it could do a lot of good.

“Pregnancy is thought of as nine months in duration, but really nowadays, we have to think of it as 12 to 15 months,” said Dr. Craig Sweet, an infertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist.

He warned that especially in Florida, where the Zika virus remains a concern, couples should start preparing for pregnancy up to six months in advance.

“The embryos are already growing for a week, sometimes longer, before they get a positive pregnancy test,” he said.

That’s why it can be good to add in things like prenatal vitamins, regular exercise, and consider genetic testing for you and your partner to determine if your child would have a greater risk for certain hereditary diseases.

Sweet said women and men should cut out things like caffeine, smoking, drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs.

But even certain medications should be scrutinized.  And supplements, which aren’t regulated by the FDA, are discouraged.

“Would you trust these enough to give it to a newborn child? And if the answer is ‘no’ then don’t take them while you’re trying to get pregnant,” Sweet advised.

He also recommends looking into other areas of planning like insurance coverage.  Make sure your policy offers coverage for pregnancies, and see if there’s coverage you can add before getting pregnant.

Bottom line, Sweet said changes shouldn’t be so drastic that it takes away from the fun of trying to get pregnant!

He also advises couples to avoid waiting until they feel like they have their lives completely “together.”

“Nothing’s ever going to be perfect,” he said.

While it’s important to be physically, emotionally, and financially ready to have a child — any pregnancy over age 35 is considered high risk.  Women may be more likely to experience gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

“There is a fine line between being intentional and being overboard,” Arnold agreed, “We just feel better, we are excited, we are happy, it’s just fun.”

By Emily Burris

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ALberta Health Services: Trauma Informed Care


Many of the people we interact with every day have been affected by overwhelming stress or traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences change a person and can create turmoil within a person and in their life. This is especially true if events and/or conditions happen in childhood.

The consequences of trauma are far reaching and can be directly or indirectly linked to mental illness, addictions, chronic disease, suicide, and overall, a failure to thrive.

The purpose of the Trauma Informed Care (TIC) Project is to increase knowledge about trauma and the impact it has by creating connection, sharing knowledge and resources. TIC offers resources for individuals who help those impacted by trauma provide patient centred care.

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Possible treatment for fetal alcohol damage after birth

best-vancouver-naturopathTwo commonly used drugs erased the learning and memory deficits caused by fetal alcohol exposure when the drugs were given after birth, thus potentially identifying a treatment for the disorder, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The scientists also newly identified a key molecular mechanism by which alcohol neurologically and developmentally harms the developing fetus.

“We’ve shown you can interfere after the damage from alcohol is done. That’s huge,” said lead investigator and senior author Eva Redei. “We have identified a potential treatment for alcohol spectrum disorder. Currently, there is none.”

Redei is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the David Lawrence Stein Research Professor of Psychiatric Diseases Affecting Children and Adolescents.

The Northwestern study was in rat pups, and the scientists are trying to raise funds for a clinical trial.

In the United States, 1 to 5 percent of children are born with the disorder, which includes learning and memory deficits, major behavioral problems, a high rate of depression, low IQ, cardiovascular and other developmental health problems.

If the drugs are effective in the clinical trial, the infants whose mothers consumed alcohol during their pregnancy potentially could be treated with them, Redei said.

The paper will be published in Molecular Psychiatry July 18.

“There are women who drink before they are aware that they are pregnant and women who do not stop drinking during their pregnancy,” Redei said. “These women still can help their children’s future, if the current findings work in humans as well. The ideal, of course, is that women abstain from drinking when pregnant, but unfortunately that does not always happen.”

In two separate arms of the study, Northwestern scientists gave either thyroxine (a hormone that is reduced in pregnant women who drink and in infants with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) or metformin (an insulin sensitizing that lowers blood sugar levels, which is higher in alcoholics) to rat pups exposed to alcohol in utero. The pups received the drugs for 10 days immediately after they were born.

Then scientists let the pups grow up and tested their memory compared to control rats also exposed to alcohol in utero but who did not receive either drug.

“We showed in the adult animals that both these treatments reversed the memory deficits as well as some of the molecular changes caused by maternal alcohol consumption,” Redei said.

Drinking alcohol reduces thyroxine levels and increases glucose in the pregnant rat—and in humans as well, according to limited human data.

“These changes are dangerous to the brain development of the fetus and are at least part of the reason for learning and of the offspring,” Redei said.

Thyroxine is an essential hormone made by the thyroid gland that regulates multiple functions in the developing brain. Children born with very low levels of thyroxine are neurodevelopmentally disabled, a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth.

Excessive glucose reaching the fetus also has a negative impact on brain development but scientists do not yet have a deep understanding of why. It also can affect any of the developing organ systems and cause Type 2 diabetes later in life.

The surprise finding was that both of these very different drugs worked to reverse the effect of maternal .

“When we got similar results we said, ‘Wait a second. These are two completely different drugs. What could they have in common?'” Redei said. “We had no idea.”

They delved deeper and discovered both drugs normalize genes that control the expression of DNA methyl transferase1, an enzyme critical for via an epigenetic process called DNA methylation.

To further validate the role of DNA methyl transferase1 in , the scientists took normal rat pups and gave them a drug to inhibit the gene. The result was alcoholic look-alike pups. When researchers then gave the pups metformin, the pups’ memory returned to normal.

Recently, DNA methyl transferase1 has been implicated in the etiology of autism and neurodegenerative diseases.

Explore further: Could novel drug target autism and fetal alcohol disorder?

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