Even moderate drinking may dull the aging brain

08 June, 2017, 02:05 | Author: Lorraine Moran
  • One glass of wine a day can damage the brain

"One of our main findings was that the hippocampus of people who drink the most is smaller".

"So a 175ml glass of wine [14% alcohol] has 2.4 units, and a pint of beer [5.2% alcohol] has 3 units", explains study author Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer in the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford. Some experts suggest you shouldn't change your drinking behavior based on this one study, but the results of these brain scans and memory tests for moderate and lighter drinkers were not what researchers expected.

A recently released study claims that even moderate drinking could lead to cognitive damages when compared to light drinkers or those who do not drink alcohol at all. But now the study has taken a foot back saying moderate drinking can cause harm to brain cells.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London, describe how they followed the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 men and women over 30 years from 1985.

At the most recent review, the researchers examined images of the participants' brains - which enabled them to explore correlations between average alcohol use, cognition and brain structure.

A glass of wine a day is enough to damage the brain and could raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease, study by Oxford University suggests. These included sex, age, years of education, socioeconomic status, social and physical activity, medical history, smoking status, and stroke risk.

While this connection was strongest for the heaviest drinkers, it was also present for moderate drinkers, i.e. those who consumed between 14 to 21 units per week -or about seven to 10 drinks.

There was no evidence, Topiwala said, that lighter amounts of drinking "protected" the brain, compared with abstinence.

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The brain scans also showed differences. Higher alcohol use was also associated with faster decline in lexical fluency (vocabulary).

However, decline in neither word recall nor semantic fluency was linked to higher alcohol consumption. The test gives people a minute to name as many words as they can, beginning with a particular letter. "The big fibre tracts in the brain are cabled like electrical wire and the insulation, if you like, on those wires was of a poorer quality in people who were drinking more", said Topiwala. However, key strengths include the information on long term alcohol consumption and the detailed available data on confounding factors.

"Alcohol might represent a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, and primary prevention interventions targeted to later life could be too late", they wrote.

They added, however, that the findings could have important public health implications for a large sector of the population.

In an editorial comment about the findings, Killian Welch, a consultant neuropsychiatrist from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in the United Kingdom, says that they support the "argument that drinking habits many regard as normal have adverse consequences for health".

Harmful drinking is defined as when a person is over the recommended weekly limit and has related health problems.

Still, the team stated that: "Even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy."

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