Even moderate drinking can damage the brain, claim researchers

One glass of wine a day can damage the brain

Even after the effects of factors such as sex, age, education, social class, physical and social activity, smoking, stroke risk and medical history were taken into account, the study found connections between those with higher alcohol intake and declining brain health.

Overall, the study found, people who regularly drank showed more atrophy in a brain region called the hippocampus, versus those who'd consistently been occasional drinkers or abstainers. "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.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

The team of researchers from University of Oxford and University College London went on to say that drinking limit guidelines in Britain at present were in agreement with this study results.

How was the study carried out?

They repeatedly assessing their alcohol consumption, tested their cognitive ability and scanned their brains. "Even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy", the study said. People who drank between seven and 14 units a week were found to have 14% greater reduction in their performance on the task over 30 years, compared to those who drank just one or fewer units a week.

Language fluency was measured by a test that asks people to name as many words starting with a specific letter as they can in one minute.

Brain scans showed people who drank high levels of alcohol were more likely to have reduced white matter in the brain.

But the authors of the new study, published in the BMJ said their findings support the changes.


It is well known that heavy drinking of more than 30 units of alchohol - around 13 pints or large glasses of wine - a week is bad for the brain.

In tests, drinking seemed to affect specific topics but not others. Finally, dependent drinking is when the person is addicted to alcohol.

While the study was not created to show cause and effect, the results can not be taken as proof that moderate drinking hastens brain decline. "However, the findings do contradict a common belief that a glass of red wine or champagne a day can protect against damage to the brain". "We all use rationalisations to justify persistence with behaviours not in our long term interest".

The health effects of heavy drinking are well-known but as the HSE says the problem with alcohol is "not all about red noses and liver damage".

After adjusting for these factors, researchers were able to work out what impact different levels of alcohol consumption had on a person's brain health.

The researchers noted that with an observational study like this, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

While the jury has always been out on the awful effects of heavy and binge-drinking, us "moderates" have been smugly sipping away, confident that we aren't doing ourselves much damage.

"The results are encouraging since they suggest that reducing alcohol consumption today could prevent or delay the onset of diseases linked to hippocampal atrophy, such as Alzheimer's".

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