It’s no surprise that heavy drinking significantly affects brain health, and not in a good way. What may be surprising to many is that even moderate drinking may have a markedly negative effect on the brain.
More research is needed before most of us make drastic changes in our behavior, but researchers think this new information may change the way we think about light to moderate drinking.
What the Study Revealed
A 30-year study conducted at two U.K. universities from 1985 to 2015 followed 550 healthy, middle-aged drinkers, ranging from abstainers to relatively heavy drinkers. None of the participants were alcoholic.
Cognition of all participants was tested regularly, and brain MRIs were conducted at the end of the study.
The MRIs revealed that heavy drinkers are at highest risk for significant decline in mental ability and a larger loss of white matter, with the possibility of developing Korsakoff’s disease or alcoholic dementia. The more alcohol one uses over the years, the faster the brain ages. This, of course, is old news.
Although the risk is substantially less for moderate drinkers, they are approximately three times more likely to display shrinkage to the hippocampus than people who abstain.
Moderate drinking, according to U.K. guidelines, is equal to five to seven beers a week, or about six to eight glasses of wine. In the United States, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink a day for women, and two for men.