Pictured from left to right: Senator Brian Feldman, Susan Rich, Bob Fuhrman – Rotary Pres., and Representative Aruna Miller.
It was a remarkable honor to speak last night to the prestigious group of service-oriented citizen members of the Potomac-Bethesda Rotary Club. As a public health entrepreneur, I’m grateful to have the support of State Senator Brian Feldman and District 15 Representative Aruna Miller, who attended the Rotary club dinner presentation about my new book – The Silent Epidemic: A Child Psychiatrist’s Journey beyond Death Row.* Sharing my journey with these remarkable legislators and the imminent Rotary scholars and community leaders was truly humbling.
My main points were to let them know much about the public health warnings and efforts leading up to Prohibition, and the reasons why our society seems deaf to the damage caused to our future generations from a chemical so ubiquitous as alcohol. None of the Rotarians knew that as little as 4-5 standard servings of beer, wine or liquor exquisitely timed late in the 3rd week post conception can cause the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), or that only 10-15% of children with effects of prenatal alcohol exposure have the identifiable facial characteristics. They also didn’t know that a Long Island Iced Tea contains nearly 1.5 times the amount of alcohol (6 shots, no tea) to cause FAS. Since 50% of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and 13.5% of childbearing age women drink alcohol, we have an epidemic (1 in 20) of affected school-aged children in this country.
They were dismayed that future generations could be impacted by a process known as “methylation” – the addition of “CH3-switches” placed on DNA’s histone proteins to interfere with the process of translation of the DNA/RNA into protein. Not only is a child’s neuronal wiring affected by a mother drinking alcohol (i.e., killing the progenitor brain cells that will form important structures of the midline especially), the child’s gonads are affected (their “germ cells” – eggs and sperm) by effects of methylation. This process affects future generations – even if the mother does not drink. Since it takes 3 months for the process of spermatogenesis (sperm development) in the male, his use of alcohol can also potentially “methylate” his sperm DNA. These permanent switches created by preconceptional alcohol exposure are transmitted for generations into the future. Thus, conditions such as alcoholism, chemical dependency, anxiety disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders are carried down generation after generation – silently within the replication process of DNA.
The fact that most people don’t know that their children and grandchildren may be affected by their inebriated sperm is a problem our society should begin to face. The Better Safe Than Sorry Project, as well at the CDC and the US Surgeon General, recommend for alcohol consumers to avoid alcohol if pregnant or planning pregnancy (for males, this should be 3 months prior to conception); and to avoid pregnancy (i.e., contracept) until they are ready to abstain from alcohol.
In an effort to stem the tide of unintentional prenatal alcohol exposure (and prior to pregnancy recognition), we are hoping to work with the state legislature this fall on a state bill to require “point of purchase” messaging where alcohol is sold. Forty-one states already have such signage, indicating that those who are pregnant or planning to be should avoid alcohol. I would hope that we Marylanders would go one step further with an additional statement – “Alcohol consumers should avoid pregnancy (i.e., contracept), since problems can occur with exposure before knowing one is pregnant.”
Remember – alcohol and unprotected sex don’t mix!
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