Even Moderate Drinking Can Affect Brain Health

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.

What about the Benefits of Moderate Drinking?

It’s long been accepted that light to moderate drinking provides certain protective qualities for the heart, and maybe even for the brain, possibly helping to ward off dementia, but a change in thinking may be in order. It appears that alcohol provides absolutely no protective qualities for the brain.

Although the findings aren’t written in stone and more research is needed, the new knowledge may have important public health implications going forward.

In the meantime, it’s not unhealthy to have an occasional drink, but it’s wise to keep drinking to a minimum. People who attempt to cut back in later years may discover that it’s too little, too late.

Seek treatment if you think your drinking is excessive, or if you have developed a dependency on alcohol. A qualified drug and alcohol treatment center or rehab can help you overcome an alcohol dependence.

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