There are increasing studies that cast doubt on whether moderate consumption of alcohol, such as a daily glass of red wine, may be beneficial to health. But there is no doubt is that alcohol is very harmful to children and adolescents, whose brains are still under development. It is known that adolescents who drink alcohol in binge (“binge drinking”) can suffer brain alterations that make it difficult to adapt to the changing situations of adult life. However, according to a study carried out by researchers at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University, it appears that this damage is not limited to the brains of adolescents and ends up being transmitted to those of the future children.
As explained by Toni R. Pak, director of this research presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, “alcohol consumption in binge is not only dangerous for the developing brain of adolescents, but it can also impact the brains of their future children”.
To carry out the study, the authors used an animal model. Rats underwent repeated episodes of ‘binge drinking’. Specifically, both females and males rats and even in their “adolescent” stage of development, drank alcohol in amounts comparable to six episodes of alcohol consumption in binge. And once they recovered and maintained a state of sobriety, they were paired to reproduce. None of the pregnant rats tested the alcohol again to avoid any possible effects of fetal alcohol syndrome on their offspring.
Finally, the authors analyzed genes present in the hypothalamus – that is, the brain region involved in, among other things, reproduction, stress response, sleep-wake cycles, and food consumption – of offspring. And what they observed was that, compared to those born to animals not exposed to alcohol, the DNA of the members engendered by rats who consumed alcohol in binge drinking had molecular changes – the so-called “methylation“, that is, the addition of one or more methyl groups to a molecule, in this case the DNA strand – which could alter the ‘switches’ of the brain genes.
The switches are to activate -‘on’- or deactivate -‘off’- the expression of proteins by the cells. One aspect that is crucial because, ultimately, these proteins will control the organism and dictate our behavior. And in this context, as the results show, many of the genes that should be activated were in the off position – and vice versa – in the descendants of the study as a result of alcohol abuse by their parents.
The number of molecular alterations in the DNA was greater if both parents were ‘drinkers’: an average of 93 DNA methylations in case the father only drank, of 159 in case alcohol abuse was taken to Only for the mother, and 244 if both the mother and the father had practiced ‘binge drinking’.
In short, this is the first study in which a molecular pathway has been observed whereby the consumption of alcohol in binge drinking during adolescence can damage the neurological health of the following generations. A very important aspect given that, at least in the United States, 90% of those under 21 years of age – the legal drinking age in that country – who consume alcohol do it in the form of binge drinking.
However, since the study was conducted with rats, can it be ensured that the same is true for humans? As Toni Pak concludes, “While it is true that the findings of an animal model do not necessarily have to be extrapolated to humans, there are very significant similarities between this animal model and humans, in the case of their alcohol metabolism, functions Of the hypothalamus and the pattern of “binge drinking”.