According to a study of more than 25,000 people, there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for the brain, even “moderate” consumption negatively affects almost all of its parts.
English study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the more alcohol one consumes, the more brain volume decreases. Indeed, the more you drink, the more your brain deteriorates.
“There is no threshold for harmful alcohol consumption – all alcohol is worse. Almost the whole brain appears to be affected – not just specific areas, as previously thought,” says lead author Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Higher alcohol consumption was associated with lower gray matter density, the researchers found. It had four times the effect on brain health of smoking or BMI
Using the UK Biobank, a substantial database designed to help researchers decode the genetic and environmental factors that cause some people to develop diseases while others do not, the researchers in this study have analyzed data from 25,378 participants such as age, gender, education, self-reported alcohol consumption, brain size and health from MRI scans, hospital visit information hospital and outpatient and memory tests.
A higher volume of alcohol consumption per week was associated with lower gray matter density, the researchers found, with alcohol explaining up to 0.8% change in gray matter volume, even after taking into account individual biological and behavioral characteristics.
It may seem like a small number, but it’s a bigger contribution than any other modifiable risk factor. For example, it’s four times the contribution of smoking or BMI, Topiwala says.
Widespread negative associations have also been observed between alcohol consumption and the integrity of white matter, the brain fibers that scaffold the billions of neurons that make up gray matter. Additionally, high blood pressure, high BMI and other underlying conditions reinforced the negative association between alcohol and brain health, the researchers found.
Unlike previous research that suggested there was a benefit to drinking wine in moderation compared to beer or spirits, the study found no evidence to suggest that the type of alcoholic beverage carried different risks for the brain.
The study shows evidence of harm below weekly alcohol consumption guidelines, according to Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford, who led the study.
Associations of wine consumption with higher educational attainment and socioeconomic status may explain the perceived health benefits, the authors suggest. “If you look at who drinks moderately, at least in the UK, it’s better educated, wealthier people who would do much better on a memory test…simply because of who they are, than less educated people,” says Topiwala. .
The results are robust to many alternative hypotheses, says Colin Angus, principal investigator of the Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield.
“In the grand scheme of things, these effects appear small, although it is difficult to compare them to the impact of alcohol on other health outcomes, such as increased cancer risks, without other research to understand how the association between alcohol and brain health feeds lead to more tangible outcomes, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
HSE guidelines recommend that women consume no more than 11 units of alcohol per week and men no more than 17, spread over the week, with two or three alcohol-free days per week and no more than six units on a single occasion. In Ireland, one unit contains around 10g of pure alcohol – the equivalent of a measure of pub spirits, a small glass of wine, half a pint of beer or an alcopop.
British guidelines recommend that men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. In the UK, one unit contains approximately 8g of pure alcohol. Topiwala says the study shows evidence of harm below that threshold. – Guardian