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Why breastfeeding mothers should not drink any alcohol

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*Booze in breast milk damages thinking, reasoning skills of children
*Alcohol increases tuberculosis-related deaths, researchers find

No alcohol is safe while breastfeeding, new research suggests.

Exposure to booze in breast milk reduces children’s thinking and reasoning skills at six-to-seven years old, a study found.

Alcohol is thought to damage babies’ brain cells or could make breast milk less nutritious, leading to deficiencies, the researchers believe.

Study author Louisa Gibson, from Macquarie University, Sydney, said: “The safest option is to abstain from alcohol completely during both pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“This study suggests that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, with every extra drink causing a little bit more harm.”

The researchers analysed more than 5,000 mothers and babies, born in 2004, from Australia. Every two years, the youngsters were assessed.

The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Results further suggest children’s thinking and reasoning skills are not affected if their mothers drank during their infancy but did not breastfeed.

Gibson said: “This lack of association in babies who had never been breastfed suggests that the reduction in [thinking and reasoning] abilities was a direct result of the alcohol in the breast milk, and not because of other social aspects related to drinking.”

Alcohol may also affect babies’ abilities to feed and sleep, making them less responsive to environmental stimulants.

The findings further suggest such children’s thinking and reasoning skills are no longer affected by the time they turn 10, as well as implying smoking while breastfeeding does not impact youngsters’ cognitive abilities. Experts argue, however, the latter is unlikely due to cigarettes being known to affect foetal health.

Also, alcohol increases the mortality of young but not old mice infected with the tuberculosis-causing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), and this effect is mediated by the production of a protein called interferon-alpha (IFN-α).

The study, led by Deepak Tripathi of the University of Texas Health Science Center, was published August 2 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens.

Chronic alcohol consumption modulates host immune defense mechanisms and increases susceptibility to infections with various pathogens such as Mtb. However, limited information is available about the mechanisms involved in alcohol-mediated host susceptibility to Mtb and other intracellular bacterial infections, particularly in old individuals. To address this question, Tripathi and colleagues used a mouse model and human blood samples to determine the effects of chronic alcohol consumption on immune responses during Mtb infection.

Alcohol increased the mortality of young mice but not old mice with Mtb infection. The increased mortality in alcohol-fed Mtb-infected young mice was due to IFN-α production in the lungs by a subset of immune cells that express molecules called CD11b and Ly6G. Among patients with latent tuberculosis infection, peripheral blood mononuclear cells from young alcoholic individuals produced significantly higher amounts of IFN-α than those from young non-alcoholic, old alcoholic, and old non-alcoholic individuals.

The findings shed light on the immune mechanisms involved in alcohol-induced susceptibility to Mtb infection. The results also suggest that young alcoholic individuals with latent tuberculosis infection have a higher risk of developing active tuberculosis infection.

According to the authors, the study could facilitate the development of therapies for alcoholic individuals with latent and active Mtb infections.


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