Last updated June 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm
Excessive alcohol consumption has negative consequences on your health but knocking back even just a few drinks might also knock back memory and damage your brain too.
We are all familiar with the way drinking can make you forget but new research from the UK shows that even moderate drinking can rot your brain – particularly that part of your grey matter that helps you to remember.
A study published in the medical journal BMJ reports on 550 otherwise healthy men who were followed for 30 years. Their drinking habits were recorded and they were regularly tested for brain function as well as having MRI brain scans.
After adjusting for confounding factors including age, sex, education, social class, physical and social activity, smoking, stroke risk and medical history, the researchers found that higher alcohol consumption was associated with increased risk of damage to the part of the brain known as the hippocampus that affects memory and spatial navigation.
And, while they showed that even moderate alcohol consumption was associated with this brain damage, the more you drink, the more damage is being done. People consuming over 30 units of alcohol a week (roughly four or more standard drinks each day) were at the highest risk but even more moderate consumption of 14-21 units per week (between two and three standard drinks a day) were three times more likely to have a damaged hippocampus than abstainers.
Higher consumption was also found to be associated with poorer integrity of the white matter in the brain which is critical for efficient cognitive functioning as well as a faster decline in language abilities such as fluency – a measure of how many words beginning with a specific letter can be generated in one minute. Remarkably no association was found with word recall.
An editorial in the same journal suggests that it’s time to reconsider what ‘normal’ levels of drinking are and what damage that is doing to our health.
- Link to original research article: bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2353
- Link to editorial article: bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2645
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