A new study on mice has given more evidence against the use of elective Ceasarian section (C-section) that has become popular in recent years. Subscribers to this blog may remember me recently discussing a study linking C-sections to increased risk of obesity. This new study shows it could have a lasting negative effect on the brain as well.
In this study, mice born by a vaginal birth produced normal amounts of a brain protein
called uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2). This is a protein found in the mitochondria (the energy-producing parts of the cell), and is involved in regulation of fuel utilization, cell proliferation, neuroprotection (protection of nerve cells), and synaptogenesis (formation of nerve-to-nerve connections) in
the adult brain. These aspects are important for the development of the hippocampus, an area responsible for short- and long-term memory. Its production is induced by cellular stress.
However, production of UCP2 was impaired in mice born by C-section. The researchers demonstrated that this resulted in smaller nerve cells, a reduced number of nerve cells, the reduced number of connections (synapses) between the nerve cells in the hippocampus. When these mice with reduced UCP2 grew up, they had impaired performance in a maze test
designed to measure their memory and cognition.
The results show how important this protein is in the development of the brain and behaviour, and the increasing prevalence of C-section--driven by convenience rather than medical necessity--may have lasting effects on brain development and function. However, keep in mind that this was an animal study, so more research will be needed to see if the same effects are seen in humans.
Interestingly, other studies in mice where UCP2 is enhanced, they were resistant to the degeneration seen in models of epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and global ischemia (where blood flow to the whole brain is drastically reduced, usually due to a heart attack, as opposed to a specific area like during a stroke).
For those who must have a C-section out of medical necessity/emergency, I suggested ways to minimize the risk of obesity (in response to a question in the comments section in the article discussing that link). However, there's no simple way to answer a similar question with respect to brain/cognitive health.
I'm guessing here, but perhaps the physiological stress experienced by the baby is different between an elective C-section, and an emergency C-section. In fact, it would be logical to assume that a baby experiences significant amounts of stress just prior to an emergency C-section, so perhaps the results of this study do not apply to emergency situations. Again, future research may help clarify the difference, and I'll be sure to cover it.
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Source: Ucp2 Induced by Natural Birth Regulates Neuronal Differentiation of the Hippocampus and Related Adult Behavior
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