Are Your Drinking Habits Ruining Your Brain Health?
By Megan Flemmit, photography by Pexels
Even if you’re sticking to moderation…
We’ve all been warned that too much of a good thing is bad for you, which is why we’ve been told to have everything in moderation. The same applies to alcohol. One even found that women who were low to moderate drinkers had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. However, women who were heavy drinkers increased their risk of cardiovascular disease. Clearly, moderation is key, right?
The latest results of a study on alcohol consumption and brain health might suggest otherwise.
Researchers from the UK monitored 550 randomly selected participants over a period of 30 years. Participants were asked to note how much they drank each week and how often they drank. They were then categorised based on alcohol consumption:
— Low consumption – Those who drank between 1-7 units of alcohol per week.
— Moderate consumption – Those who drank between 7-14 units (women) or 7-21 units(men) of alcohol per week.
— High consumption – Those who drank more than 14 units (women) or 21 units (men) of alcohol per week.
(One unit translates to 10ml or 8grams of alcohol.)
Researchers conducted MRI scans of participants brains and asked participants various cognitive tests at various intervals throughout the 30 year period. The cognitive tests included lexical fluency (how many words participants could mention that began with a particular letter in 60 seconds), semantic fluency (how many words participants could mention relating to a particular category in 60 seconds) and memory recall (participants had to remember 20 words).
Researchers discovered that participants who drank high levels of alcohol had the fastest decline in lexical fluency and had the biggest risk of hippocampal atrophy (a memory condition associated with Alzheimer’s disease). However, researchers found that even those who were moderate drinkers were at risk for hippocampal atrophy. They also found that moderate drinkers had a faster decline of lexical fluency compared to those who abstained from drinking. Over the 30 year period participants’ lexical fluency declined by 14 – 17%.
Light drinkers were also found to be at risk for hippocampal atrophy compared to those who abstained. Abstinence, it would seem, is the key to maintain good brain health.
Hold That Thought
But before you swear off alcohol completely, the authors highlighted some limitations of the study which should be taken into consideration. Most of the participants were middle class, educated men. As a result, the authors findings are not representative of the wider population. They said that further study is needed to determine whether the results are applicable to the greater population. They also noted that participants could have underestimated the amount of alcohol they consumed. So while it’s possible that moderate drinking has negative effects on brain health, it has yet to be proven 100%.
Phew. *continues to sip wine* (in moderation, of course)