Cholesterol - Fetal Alcohol Defects

The same research group at Duke University that reported its concern about the association of excess Parkinsonism cases with the taking of statin drugs has now reported a previously unsuspected role of serum cholesterol levels in the condition of fetal alcohol syndrome.

U.S. medical researchers have found cholesterol supplementation prevents the fetal alcohol spectrum of defects in alcohol-exposed zebra fish embryos.

The Duke University Medical Center study by Yin-Xiong Li and colleagues details the mechanism and prevention of fetal alcohol defects and has implications for potential preventative prenatal intervention.

Experts estimate approximately 100 babies are born daily suffering from alcohol related defects that include abnormalities such as neurological, craniofacial, and cardiac malformations.

Using the zebra fish model, the researcher found alcohol interferes with embryonic development by disrupting cholesterol-dependent activation of a critical signaling molecule, called sonic hedgehog. They also showed cholesterol supplementation of the alcohol-exposed embryos restored the functionality of the molecular pathway and prevented development of such defects.

 In addition, the authors report alcohol related defects in zebra fish resulted from minimal fetal alcohol exposure, equivalent to a 120-pound woman drinking one 12-ounce bottle of beer. The findings suggest even small amounts of alcohol might be unsafe for pregnant women and also indicate cholesterol supplementation may be a potential means to prevent fetal alcohol defects.

There is now an abundance of research data documenting the vital role of cholesterol in our body. Although this study used Zebra fish as a model, at the cellular level of glycoprotein and neuropeptide synthesis, the biochemical steps are the same. Even with a lowly worm we share some 60% of our genes and Zebra fish are much higher on the evolutionary chain. The tiny, but incredibly complex, factories common to all cells are known as the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus. The joining of peptide and amino acids is like the threading of popcorn on a string with their sequence determining the final message.

Now we have evidence for an even greater role for cholesterol along with brain cognition and substrate for our vital hormones. Can one imagine the effect of statins on this cholesterol dependent mechanism? Thousands of women currently taking statins are in their childbearing age ( although women are to avoid pregnancies while on statins, hundreds do get pregnant ) and social drinking being what it is...?

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

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