Moderate Drinking Can Damage the Brain, Claim Researchers

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can damage the brain and impair cognitive function over time, researchers have claimed. Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London, describe how they followed the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 men and women over 30 years from 1985. At the end of the study the team took MRI scans of the participants’ brains. None of the participants were deemed to have an alcohol dependence, but levels of drinking varied. After excluding 23 participants due to gaps in data or other issues, the team looked at participants’ alcohol intake as well as their performance on various cognitive tasks, as measured at six points over the 30 year period. The team also looked at the structure of the participants’ brains, as shown by the MRI scan, including the structure of the white matter and the state of the hippocampus — a seahorse-shaped area of the brain associated with memory. After taking into account a host of other factors including age, sex, social activity and education, the team found that those who reported higher levels of drinking were more often found to have a shrunken hippocampus, with the effect greater for the right side of the brain. While 35% of those who didn’t drink were found to have shrinkage on the right side of the hippocampus, the figure was 65% for those who drank on average between 14 and 21 units a week, and 77% for those who drank 30 or more units a week.


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