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For a while now, researchers have known that prenatal exposure to drug abuse can be quite harmful to the brain of a fetus. But, going by the results of a new study, prenatal usage of methamphetamine can impair the fetal brain worse than prenatal alcohol exposure.
Published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the study suggests identifying susceptible brain structures can assist in predicting learning and behavioral problems in children who were exposed to meth. Caudate Nucleus, a region in the brain playing a key part in memory, motivation and motor control, was lowered more by meth than alcohol.
The worrying part, also underlined by the lead author of the study Dr. Elizabeth Sowell, in all this is that pregnant women use meth quite commonly.
According to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, approximately 19,000 meth users in the country are pregnant women.
Even more dangerous is half of these meth users also consume alcohol on a regular basis.
Researchers analyzed the impact of meth by comparing brain scans of 61 children of which 21 had been prenatally exposed to alcohol and meth, 13 had been exposed heavily to alcohol and 27 weren’t exposed to either of the two. The team of researchers found out that the size and shape of few of the brain structures were different (based on the level of exposure). They found that brains of children that were exposed to meth were similar to alcohol ones. Furthermore, in meth-exposed children, an irregular increase was found in the cingulate cortex, a region in the brain that helps in resolving conflicts.
Apart from this, the researchers could also ascertain a specific child’s prior exposure to drugs. This could go a long way in diagnosing children with behavioral or cognitive issues. Plus, the findings of the research could also assist in understanding the regions in the brain that are highly vulnerable to injury during fetal development process. In a nutshell, the study is indeed a breakthrough of sorts and can be used to help children (exposed to drugs) in bettering their cognitive performance.
For pregnant women that are addicted to meth, it is imperative they use the services of an expert. For the child to be normal and grow normal, it is important to seek help from addiction treatment centers.
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