There has never been any debate that drinking alcohol to excess is unhealthy. However, the pendulum seems often to swing back and forth on moderate drinking, with studies having been published that find drinking one or two drinks a day not only is OK but could even have some health benefits. However, a new study has the pendulum swinging back in the other direction and says that as little as one drink a day can cause brain damage!
A new study has found that drinking as little as just one pint of beer or an average glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain, and the damage worsens as the number of daily drinks increases.
On average, people at age 50 who drank a pint of beer or a 6-ounce glass of wine a day in the last month had brains that appeared two years older than those who only drank a half of a beer, according to the study, which was published in the journal Nature.
The brains of people that age who said they drank three alcohol units a day had reductions in both white and gray matter that looked as if they had added 3.5 years to the ages of their brains.
As measured by the researchers, “one alcohol unit” is 10 milliliters or 8 grams of pure alcohol. That means 25 milliliters or a single shot of liquor is one unit; a 16-ounce can of beer or cider is two units, and a standard 6-ounce glass of wine (175 milliliters) is two units.
The brains of nondrinkers who began consuming an average of one alcohol unit a day showed the equivalent of a half a year of aging, according to the study.
In comparison, drinking four alcohol units a day aged a person’s brain by more than 10 years.
“It’s not linear. It gets worse the more you drink,” first author Remi Daviet, an assistant professor of marketing in the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement.
“A problem in this study is that they only have information on people’s drinking habits for the one year prior to the (brain) imaging,” said alcohol researcher Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington.
“I think this is a major limitation of the study as it’s likely that the cumulative consumption of alcohol throughout one’s lifetime is associated with the brain, not just the level of consumption right before the images were taken,” she added.
“The relationship between alcohol and health is complex, and our understanding of that relationship is evolving over time. Based on this study, I would not really draw any definitive conclusions, but I would say that the authors have identified areas for further research.”
Doctors used to believe that moderate amounts of alcohol could provide a health benefit, especially to the heart and the brain, but recent research has called that assumption into question. A number of the most recent studies have found that no amount of drinking is good for you. In fact, the World Heart Federation recently published a policy brief saying there is “no level of alcohol consumption that is safe for health.”
However, Gakidou points out that a major drawback of the brain imaging study is that the authors only took into account alcohol consumption with its physical impact on brain size; they did not correlate that with any concurrent or causative cognitive impairment.
“My main criticism is that the authors are overinterpreting the findings of their study and drawing conclusions that are not necessarily supported by what is presented in the paper, …and so I’m not convinced by the conclusions.”