Make it decaf if there's a baby on the way


By Debora MacKenzie WOMEN who drink coffee shortly before giving birth could be increasing the risk of their child developing epilepsy, according to researchers at Port Royal Hospital in Paris. Yehezkel Ben-Ari and his colleagues removed part of the brain called the hippocampus from newborn rats. The hippocampus can be the site of violent bursts of electrical activity that occur during epileptic seizures. When the brain cells were deprived of oxygen for a few minutes—which can happen during birth—their normal waves of electrical activity stopped, only returning when the oxygen supply was restored. But in the presence of caffeine at concentrations that could result from drinking two cups of coffee, depriving the cells of oxygen produced the intense electrical bursts typical of epileptic seizures. As the researchers will report in next month’s Annals of Neurology (vol 46), the bursts continued in some of the brain cells even after oxygen was restored. Pregnancy increases the half-life of caffeine in the blood from 2 hours to 20 hours, and the drug easily enters fetal brains. There it blocks the action of adenosine, which usually prevents seizures by suppressing electrical activity in the hippocampus when the cells are starved of oxygen. Newborn infants need regular patterns of electrical activity in the brain to establish the right connections among nerve cells after birth. Seizures can result in the wrong connections being made, and oxygen deprivation during birth can lead to chronic epilepsy. The results suggest that caffeine may increase the risk of this happening,
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