Dr. Dipak Sarkar has recently received a $3.5 million MERIT award from the NIH "to continue researching the damaging effects of alcohol on the nervous systems of the unborn."
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant public health problem and may result in a wide range of adverse outcomes for the child," Dr. Sarkar says.
"Many Fetal Alcohol Syndrome patients have problems coping with stress; they have learning disabilities, infections, and increased susceptibility to diseases," Dr. Sarkar adds.
These problems stem from the alcohol-induced destruction of neurons in the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. These beta-endorphin neurons produce the endorphin hormone and are particularly vulnerable during the early development of the fetus.
Sarkar's research has shown that a seemingly irreversible reduction in the number and function of beta-endorphin neurons results in a permanent impairment of stress and immune system functions throughout life. While the body often displays the ability to recover from damage or disease, this does not seem to come into play with the loss of beta-endorphin neurons.
His continuing research is aimed at discovering the molecular mechanism involved in alcohol's toxic action on beta-endorphin neurons. A clear understanding of the underlying mechanism could offer a starting point from which to develop pharmaceuticals for fetal alcohol patients in the future.
Beta-endorphin neurons are also known as opioids because, like opium-based narcotics, their hormone products have the ability to reduce pain and increase a sense of well-being. Their loss would consequently have an opposite effect, reducing the ability to manage stress.
Well, that's all nice and dandy and even interesting in a nerdy kind of way. What I was wondering about is this: what about all those other studies which seem to suggest that a peg a day of alcohol keeps many diseases at bay?
Well, I guess it's okay for everyone to have their daily drink or two unless they happen to be pregnant.
Also, one could simply ask grandma if it's okay for a pregnant woman to drink and she would have the correct answer!
And that too without the benefit of having done a multimillion dollar research on it...