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New evidence finds even one drink per day is harmful to health

Only one glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain.

Image by Mick Stephenson (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Image by Mick Stephenson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

How much alcohol is safe to drink? This perennial question now has a more definitive answer, and many may not like the findings, for the answer rests squarely on ‘none’. This is based on research that finds the more alcohol that is consumed then the bigger the impact is upon the brain.

This association begins with an average of just one drink a day, according to the findings from the University of Pennsylvania.

Scientists analyzed data from more than 36,000 adults that found a link between drinking and reduced brain volume that begins at an average consumption level of less than one alcohol unit a day (which represents just half a beer). After this, the risk increases with each additional drink.

The study drew on a dataset of more than 36,000 adults and it shows that going from one to two drinks a day is connected with changes in the brain equivalent to aging two years.

The study drew upon biomedical data, brain magnetic resonance imaging scans, and questionnaires completed by people. The data was normalized for age, height, sex, smoking status, socioeconomic status, genetic ancestry, and county of residence.

Furthermore, heavier drinking was associated with an even greater stress with significant alterations in brain structure and size occurring. These physiological changes are associated with cognitive impairments.

What is more surprising is that even light-to-moderate alcohol consumption appears to be associated with reductions in overall brain volume. Even here there are differences between ‘light’ and ‘moderate’ that could make a difference in the longer-term.

What this means for the population at large is for people at age 50 who drank a pint of beer or 6-ounce glass of wine (two alcohol units) a day were found to have brains that are two years older than those who only drank a half of a beer (one unit), according to the study.

Interviewed by The Guardian, Dr Remi Daviet, the study’s first author, who is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says “One additional drink in a day could have more of an impact than any of the previous drinks that day. That means that cutting back on that final drink of the night might have a big effect in terms of brain ageing.”

The research appears in the journal Nature Communications, titled “Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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