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HomeClinical TrialsPre-Clinical ResearchOccasional drinking during pregnancy and its effects on insulin and fetal growth

Occasional drinking during pregnancy and its effects on insulin and fetal growth

Consumption of alcohol during the earliest periods of fetal development can lead to metabolic issues in male offspring, especially in regards to insulin resistance and insulin signalling within the body.

Insulin is a hormone that aids in the transport of glucose into our cells. It allows the sugars that we eat to be utilized for sources of energy, growth, and repair. The lack of this hormone, or its inability to transport glucose, commonly leads to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology, conducted at the University of Queensland, Australia, the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on adolescent Sprague-Dawley rats were analyzed.  This study started with female rats that were selected and checked for child-rearing capabilities and were then housed with male rats. When the presence of a seminal plug was present, a sign of potential impregnation, each female was housed individually and then randomly assigned to receive either ethanol (alcohol) or saline (control), at a dose of 1 g/kg body weight, on their 13th and 14th days of pregnancy; an important stage for liver and pancreas development. Once birthed, one male and one female from each litter were used for each experiment. The experiments included blood and tissue collection, measurement of blood alcohol concentration, food preference study, glucose and insulin intolerance tests, molecular analysis tests and plasma insulin, glucose and lipid analysis.

Alcohol exposure increased signs of insulin resistance

The results from this study showed that males of ethanol-exposed rats showed elevated levels of insulin during glucose tolerance tests at six months of age, in comparison to females and control-grouped males; a sign of insulin resistance. In addition, molecular analysis tests showed that protein kinase B, a key molecule in the insulin signalling pathway between central and peripheral tissues, was elevated in adipose tissue from ethanol-exposed males when compared to controls. These two findings show that even acute, but moderate consumption of alcohol can lead to metabolic issues in a sex-specific manner. As the ethanol-treated group had only reached blood alcohol concentration levels of 0.05%, male offspring of these rats had affected it’s development.

As it is commonly known to not consume alcohol during pregnancy, mothers may be unaware of being pregnant until symptoms progress. This study had showed the effects of acute, but moderate exposure of alcohol during the earliest periods of pregnancy. The results had shown that metabolism in males, in regards to insulin and insulin signalling molecules, are altered after the exposure to alcohol in the fetus. These alterations in metabolism have the potential to lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes and, potentially, other diseases that rely on insulin and insulin signaling molecules.


Written by P. Sukumar



  1. Nguyen, TMT., et al. (2019). Prenatal alcohol exposure programs offspring disease: Insulin resistance in adult males in a rat model of acute exposure. Journal of Physiology.
  2. Turan, J. (2019, October 09). Study in rats suggest special occasion drinking during pregnancy may cause harm. EurekAlert!

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