Even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for your brain

Think twice before having that next drink

'There is also anecdotal evidence that services are seeing people with alcohol-related brain damage in their 40s and 50s, rather than their 60s and 70s, as they used to.

For the ones who say they drink occasionally, there's a bad news. For example, participants categorized as moderate or unsafe drinkers had a 14 percent greater reduction over the 30-year period in their performance on a lexical fluency test compared to abstinent drinkers. After controlling for a variety of factors, including age, education, physical and social activity, social class, and medical history, they found a link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of cognitive decline. Another recent research carried out by Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria in Canada argues that it is not the drinking behaviour that influences health, rather health that influences people to drink.

Light drinking is consuming less than 5½ units a week - about six small glasses of wine or 2½ pints.

"So a 175ml glass of wine [14% alcohol] has 2.4 units, and a pint of beer [5.2% alcohol] has 3 units", explains study author Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer in the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

As Alcohol Action Ireland points out, this latest study again shows the public needs to be aware of the risk associated with consumption of alcohol at any level.

In Ireland, the weekly alcohol consumption guidelines are up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women up to 17 standard drinks in a week for men. Moderate drinking was classified between 14 and 21 units a week.

To probe further, researchers at the University of Oxford and University College London combed through data on 550 men and women monitored during 30 years as part of the so-called Whitehall II study. None of the participants were classified as alcoholics by the end of the study, and the median consumption across participants was 11.5 units per week. None were alcoholics at the outset.

A standard drink (also called a unit) here has about 10 grams of pure alcohol in it.


Andrew Misell of the Alcohol Concern charity, said: 'We've known for decades that heavy drinking can change the shape and structure of the brain, and lead to symptoms very similar to dementia. But a new study shows even moderate drinking will do significant damage long-term.

The findings support the lowering of drinking limits under Britain's guidelines and pose questions about the limits now recommended in the United States, which suggest that up to 24.

Last month, a review of previous research found that much of it doesn't control for confounding factors, casting doubt on the premise that moderate drinking comes with protective health effects. But the new study pushes back against the notion of such benefits.

Expert reaction to the the study was mixed.

Even drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can cause brain damage over a prolonged period of time, scientists have said.

Other scientists expressed scepticism about some of the methodology, and the self-reporting of alcohol consumption.

The authors pointed out that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and said some limitations could have introduced bias.

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