A new study in the U.K. shows that even light alcohol consumption harms the human brain. The study involved more than 36,000 participants between 40 and 69. The conclusion was that as little as one daily drink can shrink your brain.
Many studies have shown that drinking alcohol has long-term effects on cardiovascular and brain function. Chronic excessive alcohol consumption contributes to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, accelerated aging, and malnutrition. However, some earlier studies suggested that limited alcohol consumption might benefit your health. The researchers involved in this study wanted to determine the effect of small to moderate alcohol consumption. The results were surprising.
The 36,678 participants reported their alcohol consumption, and the researchers performed an MRI scan on their brains. Researchers grouped the subjects by average daily intake of one, two, or three or more alcohol units–or none. A unit was about eight ounces of beer or three ounces of wine. The researchers adjusted for age, genetic ancestry, and sex.
Those who consumed even one alcohol unit per day showed noticeable differences in the brain structure, especially in the brain stem, putamen, and amygdala. Those areas regulate heart rate, breathing, learning, motor control, and processing of emotions. The regions of white and gray matter in the brain shrank exponentially with increased alcohol consumption. The brain’s gray matter is that area that processes information, and the white matter enables communication between gray matter regions. One daily drink can shrink your brain, leading to decreased cognitive ability.
The more units of alcohol consumed, the more significant were the differences compared to those who drank no alcohol. For example, for people who reported drinking three alcoholic units per day, their brains appeared to be 3.5 years older than those who drank none. For those who drank four units, their brains aged by ten years.
Interestingly, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men limit their consumption to two drinks per day. This study shows that one daily drink can shrink your brain. So the bottom line is that if you want your brain to stay young longer, avoid drinking alcohol altogether.
— Roland Earnst © 2022
You can read the complete study with charts on Nature Communications at THIS LINK.