Maternal Alcohol Consumption

Several laboratories have investigated the effects of sustained maternal alcohol consumption on the offspring's metabolic health. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to abnormal fetal development and a subsequent reduction in birth weight. Increased offspring morbidity may also be linked to gestational alcohol consumption. It has been previously documented that female rats fed a gestational diet supplemented with alcohol tended to have a higher number of pups die in early postnatal life. Of those alcohol-exposed offspring that survived, the reduced rate of prenatal growth and development has been linked to abnormalities in the offspring's glucose and insulin homeosta-sis. Both glucose intolerance and insulin resistance are evident in the rat offspring exposed during in utero life to maternal alcohol. Phenotypic abnormalities, commonly associated with insulin resistance and other metabolic diseases, are also evident in the in utero alcohol-exposed offspring. The accumulation of triglycerides in nonadipocyte tissue, namely the skeletal muscle and the liver, is commonly observed in both insulin-resistant humans and experimental animal models of insulin resistance. Elevated levels of plasma and nonadipocyte tissue triglycerides have now also been documented in low-birth-weight rats that were exposed to maternal alcohol in utero.

Consumption of alcohol is quite common among breast-feeding mothers as studies have shown ethanol to aid in the promotion of lactation. Establishing the harmful effects of alcohol consumption during lactation is therefore important. Newborn rats exposed to maternal alcohol only during the lactation period have also been shown to develop reduced insulin sensitivity despite having normal prenatal growth and development. In early postnatal life some important metabolic processes are still undergoing development. Therefore, it must be considered that early postnatal life is still a vulnerable period of growth and the developing metabolic processes may still be particularly susceptible to adverse effects induced by alcohol consumption by breast-feeding mothers.

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