Even Moderate Drinking Can Damage The Brain

Ray Weaver
June 8, 2017

This contradicts the common belief that this type of drinking may actually be beneficial for the health. "If actual consumption was under-reported, then the apparent adverse effects of modest amounts of alcohol could have been magnified".

"Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion". The risk of brain atrophy was not lower for moderate drinkers, as they were three times more likely to display the condition when compared to abstainers.

The study in question spanned over three decades (between 1985 and 2015) and looked at the brains and brain functions of 550 middle-aged persons. They also had a higher risk of hippocampal atrophy than those who didn't report any drinking at all. The scientists established heavy drinkers as those consuming over 30 units of alcohol every week.

Many people drink this way.
Another recent research carried out by Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria in Canada argues that it is not the drinking behaviour that influences health, rather health that influences people to drink.

It turns out the old moniker of everything being fine in moderation might not be true, at least when it comes to drinking.

In their study paper, in which they discuss the rationale for their investigation, the researchers explain that a link between heavy drinking and adverse brain health - including dementia and degeneration of brain tissue - has already been well established.

Previously it was recommended that men should consume no more than 21 units and women should not drink more than 14 units each week.

If you are a moderate drinker, he said, you don't have to give up the booze based exclusively on this report.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London monitored the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 men and women in the United Kingdom for over 30 years, from 1985 to 2015.

However, the researchers behind the new study note that the US guidelines allow a higher limit for men of 24.5 units per week. None were alcoholics at the outset.

A unit is equivalent to 10 milliliters of pure alcohol.

"My personal view", she added, "is that people should be less confident that drinking at the upper end of US guidelines is 'safe, ' and it would be prudent to reduce their intake". But the new study pushes back against the notion of such benefits. The authors also acknowledged that the sample size was small.

Expert reaction to the the study was mixed.

"It shows evidence for "hidden" damage to the brain", commented Paul Matthews of Imperial College London, who highlighted the value of the advanced imaging techniques used.

"We were surprised that the light to moderate drinkers didn't seem to have that protective effect", said study author Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford.

Other scientists expressed scepticism about some of the methodology, and the self-reporting of alcohol consumption.

Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, agrees with Rimm, "These type of studies also can not account for all the (factors), and therefore they can not, and should not, conclude causation".

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