By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 26, 2022
The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived around 700 B.C. and espoused “moderation in all things,” didn’t have the benefit of a new study showing that even moderate drinking is associated with iron accumulation in the brain and cognitive decline.
The study of nearly 21,000 people was published in the journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) Medicine on July 14 and shows that consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week (roughly three cans of beer) is associated with higher iron levels in the brain. It also shows that higher iron levels in some brain regions are associated with worse cognitive function.
“I’ve been interested in the possibility of iron being responsible for alcohol-related brain damage since I read a small study in male alcohol-dependent individuals where they observed higher iron. I was intrigued to see if a similar phenomenon occurred in moderate drinkers,” Dr. Anya Topiwala, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, told the media.
“We found drinking greater than seven units of alcohol weekly associated with iron accumulation in the brain. Higher brain iron in turn linked to poorer cognitive performance,” she said. “Iron accumulation could underlie alcohol-related cognitive decline.”
To perform the study, researchers examined MRI scans of the brains of 20,965 people via the United Kingdom Biobank and cross-referenced their self-reported rates of alcohol consumption. A third of the subjects also had their livers scanned to assess levels of systemic iron. Everyone in the study also worked through a series of simple tasks including a trail-making test, puzzles, and a reaction-time task based on the card game Snap to measure their cognitive and motor function.
The results revealed a link between consuming more than seven units of alcohol per week and higher iron in the basal ganglia, a part of the brain associated with motor control, procedural learning, eye movement and cognition, among other functions.
Dr. Hossein Ardehali, a professor of cardiology and pharmacology at Northwestern University, said more research is needed to understand the precise role of iron in cognitive decline in alcohol drinkers.
“I am a firm believer that iron accumulation in the brain is a marker — and very likely a driver — of cognitive decline and a risk factor for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” he told Medical News Today. “Alcohol consumption, in addition to its direct effects on the brain, can also lead to brain damage through iron accumulation.”
Another recent study released this month in the Lancet found zero health benefits and plenty of health risks from alcohol consumption in people under age 39. Learn more on the CAL website.