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Testing infant’s stool can indicate future cognitive decline due to alcohol exposure

Posted:  Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Drinking during pregnancy can have deleterious effects on the cognition of infants. Most of the time, infants exposed to alcohol can be easily identified by distinctive facial features. Some of the infants though could seem normal. Mothers usually don’t admit to drinking during pregnancy due to the stigma associated with the practice. Detecting prenatal exposure to alcohol to facilitate early interventions has always been an issue but not anymore. US researchers have found that testing a newborn’s first stool for levels of alcohol metabolites may help identifying cognitive issues later in life.

The results of this longitudinal study, titled Project Newborn, were published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Project Newborn has studied nearly 400 children for 20 years since their births in the mid-1990s. For this study, the researchers analysed the meconium of 216 subjects for levels of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE). They looked at the levels of FAEE such as ethyl myristate, ethyl oleate ethyl linoleate and ethyl linolenate.

The children then gave intelligence tests at ages 9, 11 and 15. The researchers found that high levels of FAEE at birth corresponded to lower IQ scores. The previous Project Newborn study had found that high FAEE levels were associated with mental and psychomotor development problems during the first two years.

“Although we already knew a mother's alcohol use during her pregnancy may cause cognitive deficits, what is significant is that the early marker, not previously available, predicted this, establishing the predictive validity of FAEE for determining alcohol exposure in utero," said the researchers.

Problems arising out of prenatal alcohol exposure, if left untreated can extend well into the teenage years. The FAEE biomarker can be incorporated in the clinical setting to identify infants exposed to alcohol prenatally irrespective of the mother’s account.

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