by Julia Turan, The Physiological Society
If you thought a glass or two of alcohol on special occasions was safe during pregnancy, think again. Research in the Journal of Physiology shows even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause insulin-resistance, which increases the likelihood of diabetes, in male rat offspring.
The study mimicked special occasion drinking, such as a family barbeque or birthday party, where a pregnant mother might be encouraged to have one or two alcoholic drinks. Male rats exposed to this low level of prenatal alcohol showed signs of becoming diabetic at around six months old. The researchers only gave alcohol to the mother rats on two days during their pregnancy.
The rats’ blood alcohol concentration only reached 0.05 percent, and yet their male offspring became almost diabetic, with insulin levels reaching higher than expected to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Another interesting finding was that insulin-resistance was sex-specific, occurring only in the male rats. There are a couple of potential reasons for this, one being that during pregnancy, the placenta adapts to a prenatal stress differently depending on if it’s a male or female fetus, and this can impact on fetal growth and development.
The other factor is hormone changes as offspring grow into adulthood. In this case, oestrogen protects against insulin-resistance, and because males don’t have high oestrogen, they don’t experience the same protection.
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