New warning about alcohol and brain damage

Posted Jun 18, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Reports on alcohol consumption vary. A few point out some beneficial effects from drinking; most highlight the risks. To add to the latter, a new report shows the damage that drinking can have on the brain.
Jon Sullivan
The new study, perhaps disappointing for social drinkers, looks at moderate alcohol consumption. This collaborative study, between medical scientists from the University of Oxford and University College London, examined 550 volunteer subjects over a 30 year period. The aim was correlate the drinking habits with mental sharpness. The subjects were drawn from the wider WhiteHall II study, which was a study of the cardiovascular disease of British government employees. The typical age of a person at the start of the study was 43 years old. No person taking part in the study was considered to be alcohol dependent.
The study, as Laboratory Roots summarizes, revealed a relationship between moderate drinking and mental decline. The study ran between 1985-2015, during which the 550 participants went through periodic mental ability tests. Towards the end of the study the cognitive tests were supported by magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans of the brain.
The results were adjusted for other influencing factors, including age, sex and socioeconomic status. With these variables ‘normalized’, the experimental outcome showed people who had higher levels of alcohol consumption were at an increased risk for hippocampal atrophy. Hippocampal atrophy is a form of brain damage that impacts both memory and spacial navigation. It is often associated with memory-loss conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A further observation was a as a decline in language fluency, stemming from a loss of “white matter integrity”.
The results also revealed the more a person drank then the higher the risks were. What is of social interest is that those who fell within a moderate range of drinking (14 to 21 units a week) were still three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy when compared to those who did not drink at all.
According to lead researcher Killian Welch the findings “strengthen the argument that drinking habits many regard as normal have adverse consequences for health.
Interesting, the U.K. government recently adjusted down the recommended maximum amounts of alcohol per week from 21 units a week to 14. This was in response to cancer risk. However, the new research into brain function appears to support this reduction.
The findings are published in the British Medical Journal. The research is titled “Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study.”