Even moderate drinking might be bad for your brain

Source: Popular Science

By Claire Maldarelli

Binge and excessive drinking almost always get a bad rap—and for good reason. Heavy alcohol consumption is known to lead to a multitude of problems, including poor brain health. But the effects of moderate drinking on a person’s cognitive abilities have gotten less attention. In a study out this week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers following the brain health of 550 individuals found that subjects who were considered moderate drinkers—those who drank five glasses of wine or four pints of beer a week—showed a reduction in the volume of their hippocampi, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning.

While previous studies have clearly shown the negative health effects of excessive drinking, scientists know much less about the potential consequences of moderate indulgence. As such, most people consider this level of drinking to be normal—or at least not extremely harmful—and don’t think much of it. In fact, some studies have even led the public to believe that drinking in moderation can be beneficial to one’s health. But the jury is far from out on this, and the few studies that have looked at moderate drinking and overall health have been limited and fairly inconsistent.

In this study, the researchers narrowed their focus onto the effect moderate drinking can have on brain structure and memory. The researchers pulled 550 men and women who were participating in a longitudinal health study in the United Kingdom. They analyzed the brain scans of those individuals and took into account factors that could influence the results like age and smoking, as well as a history of other diseases. With 30 years worth of data, the researchers found that an increase in alcohol consumption was associated with a greater chance of developing something called hippocampal atrophy, which is damage to the hippocampus, an area involved in memory as well as spatial navigation.

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