The long-term effects of heavy drinking and how that can cause significant cognitive impairment have been long known. However, a new study suggests that even light or moderate alcohol consumption can have serious consequences for brain health.
Researchers found that among nearly 21,000 middle-aged and older adults, those who drank as little as a few beers a week showed more iron accumulation in their brains than non-drinkers.
And that iron buildup in certain areas of the brain correlated with weaker scores on tests of mental abilities like reasoning, planning, and problem-solving.
It’s not yet clear what it all could mean. But the findings add to evidence that there may be no “safe” level of drinking when it comes to brain health.
“Even small amounts of alcohol, within current alcohol guidelines, could harm your brain,” said lead researcher Dr. Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Key Takeaways From This Study:
- The brain requires a certain level of iron to function normally, but the aging brain can accumulate an excess.
- Excess iron has been linked to cognitive decline — a slow deterioration in memory and thinking skills that can lead to dementia.
- Drinking even moderate amounts seems to add to this excess.
- Overall, markers of brain iron were lowest in non-drinkers.
- Even moderate drinking — anything above four standard drinks a week — was tied to a greater accumulation of brain iron.
- The findings add to evidence questioning whether lighter drinking is safe for the brain.
You can read the complete study, which was published online July 14 in the journal PLOS Medicine.