Brain Health

This Common Habit Is Now Linked To Brain Decline

I’ve written several times about the benefits, as well as the risks, of drinking alcohol.

Drinking alcohol and its effect on health is one of the few behaviors we’re still trying to get a bead on.

Yes, we’ve got studies linking light consumption of wine and beer to improved health.

And then we have others clearly demonstrating the dangers associated with alcohol consumption.

By and large, the consensus amongst experts usually insists that if you’re going to drink, make sure you do so in moderation, as heavy drinking is almost always linked to health problems.

But light to moderate drinking might not be as risk-free as we think. A new study seems to indicate even light to moderate drinking might still produce harmful effects on your body.

British researchers wanted to see what happened to the brains of people who drank in moderation.

Currently, we know heavy drinking causes all kinds of issues with brain health. Significant drinking has been linked to things like memory loss and the degeneration of brain tissue.

And we know the introduction of alcohol into the bodies of young drinkers has all kinds of deleterious effects to the brain.

But we’ve never really looked at what happens to the brain of people who drink in moderation.

Sadly, it appears the news isn’t good.

Using a definition of moderate drinking as consuming 64 oz. of full strength beer, or 5 large glasses of wine in the course of a week, they concluded brain damage was sure to result for most.

To arrive at this conclusion, the team took a look at the changes of the brains of 550 healthy men and women whose average age was 43, over the course of 30 years (study started in 1985).

The scientists collecting data measured the participant’s weekly alcohol consumption and they compiled regular measures of brain function and mental performance. The participants also had an MRI brain scan at the end of the study.

None of the participants self-identified as alcohol dependent.

The researchers were particularly interested to see what happened to the hippocampus (the part of the brain most frequently associated with long term memory).

As expected, those who drank the most had the most damage to the hippocampus.

But what surprised them was that those who drank moderately also experienced significant damage to hippocampus.

“When they analyzed the data, the researchers found that higher alcohol intake over the 30-year study period was tied to a higher risk of atrophy or tissue degeneration in the hippocampus…

They found that the link remained after taking into account factors that might influence it. These included sex, age, years of education, socioeconomic status, social and physical activity, medical history, smoking status, and stroke risk.

Compared with people who did not drink, people who drank moderately showed a three times higher risk of hippocampal atrophy.

The researchers also found that, compared with abstinence, light drinking – defined as no more than 7 units per week – offered no protective effect against hippocampal atrophy.”

While the study wasn’t trying to link drinking to brain damage…it certainly demonstrated that imbibing alcohol likely doesn’t help you at all.

The researchers wanted to make sure their findings were accurate, so they factored in whether or not things like sex, age, years of education, socioeconomic status, social and physical activity, medical history, smoking status, and stroke risk mattered at all.

What they discovered was regardless of other factors, heavy to moderate drinking almost always led to damage to the hippocampus.

What does that mean for you?

Ideally, you drink infrequently at best. The less you drink the healthier your brain.

Hard to do for many, especially with the permissiveness of alcohol in social situations, but, it seems to be a good idea regardless.


Talk soon,

Dr. Wiggy