Even a Few Drinks a Week Could Hurt Your Brain

Frederick Owens
June 8, 2017

The research found that those who are moderate drinkers - in line with recommended weekly limits - are three times more likely to suffer atrophy to the brain, with a steeper rate of cognitive decline.

Researchers used data from a study that tracked 550 health men and women between 1985 and 2015. The study authors categorized people as abstinent (a unit or less per week), light drinkers (between one and seven units per week), moderate drinkers (women who had between seven and 14 and men who had between seven and 21 units per week) and unsafe drinkers (people who exceeded moderate drinking amounts). A lexical fluency test involves asking the participant to name as many words as they can within a minute that start with a specific letter.

For the new study, its researchers regularly tested the Whitehall II participants.

The British Medical Journal published a study on the effects of moderate drinking on the brain, and the researchers were surprised by their findings.

"My personal view", she added, "is that people should be less confident that drinking at the upper end of USA guidelines is 'safe, ' and it would be prudent to reduce their intake". "With publication of this paper, justification of "moderate" drinking on the grounds of brain health becomes a little harder". There was an adjustment in the brains of heavy drinker's overtime but this study found that brains of moderate had alterations too.

Moderate drinking for the goal of the study was measured as 14-21 units per week, more than is now recommended.

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

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An important caveat: The study is observational, so it can not prove cause and effect.

Heavy drinking can lead to a number of serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and dementia, but consuming even moderate levels of alcohol could be risky, as well, new research suggests.

But experts said they add to evidence that moderate drinking is not as healthful as many like to believe.

Earlier studies have also shown that people tend to drink less as they age, said Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the new research. Some also state that as this was exclusively an observational study, it should not conclude "causation". The researchers did not look at heavy or abusive drinking, because Topiwala says that is already firmly established with regards to brain damage and dementia.

"An observational study can not truly prove that alcohol causes dementia, but the findings are in keeping with my clinical experience", said Dr. Elizabeth Coulthard, a consultant senior lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the new research.

Previously it was recommended that men should consume no more than 21 units and women should not drink more than 14 units each week. The hippocampus also plays a part in the formation of long-term memory. Most in this study were men with similar backgrounds, with generally higher IQs than the population as a whole, all factors that can affect the results. And none of the findings suggests a need for total abstinence, he said.

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