By Pam Blume
Christian Action League
March 18, 2022
Brain damage from alcohol consumption may be more extensive than previously thought.
Previous studies have indicated a link between brain atrophy and heavy alcohol consumption, but there has been conflicting evidence on whether light-to-moderate drinking has the same effect.
In a March 4, 2022 article in Nature Communications, researchers published the results of a study titled, “Association between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank,” in which the researchers examined alcohol intake and brain structure using imaging data from 36,678 “generally healthy middle-aged and older adults from the UK Biobank.”
This study shows the negative associations of alcohol intake on brain volume in individuals consuming an average of only one to two daily “alcohol units,” with the effects becoming worse as the intake increases and is complicated by the effects of aging. (Two units of alcohol=one drink.)
They summarized their findings stating that there is evidence of “a negative association between alcohol intake and brain macrostructure and microstructure in a general population sample of middle-aged and older adults…and alcohol intake is negatively associated with global brain volumes.” They further state that, “most of these negative associations are apparent in individuals consuming an average of only one to two daily alcohol units. Thus, this multimodal imaging study highlights the potential for even moderate drinking to be associated with changes in brain volume in middle-aged and older adults.”
One of the researchers, Henry R. Kranzler, MD, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Studies of Addiction, told USA TODAY “the idea that moderate drinking promotes health appears no longer defensible.” Kranzler also stated that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guideline for moderate drinking (one drink or less per day for women and two drinks a day for men) “exceeds the consumption level associated in the study with decreased brain volume.”
The researchers stated that even a small increase such as going from no drinking at all to one unit of alcohol per day (equivalent to half a beer) ages the brain by half a year. Four drinks a day could equal aging the brain more than 10 years.
The large number of people studied has given a better assessment, but the researchers would also like to see further studies involving younger ages, studies with repeated MRI scans to track alcohol’s effects and whether abstinence or less drinking can also change the brain volume. The findings of this recent report, though, has caused several of the researchers themselves to cut back their own alcohol consumption, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The idea that alcohol consumption could lead to a decline in the size of the brain and hasten the decline of memory, decision-making and other brain functions should certainly give us pause.
The full report with scientific data can be found at Nature Communication.
Philadelphia Inquirer: “Even one drink a day may shrink your brain, Penn study suggests”
USA TODAY: “A beer or glass of wine daily may shrink your brain”