Study Says Even Moderate Drinking Is Bad For Your Brain

Previous research may suggest that drinking, as often as every day, is beneficial for our health. 

However, a new study published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests moderate drinkers are more likely to develop worrisome brain changes and memory loss than abstainers or light drinkers. Moderates were also more likely to show rapid slippage on a language test, though not on several other cognitive tests.

The study defined "moderate drinking" as 8 - 12 small glasses of wine, bottles of beer, or shots of liquor each week. 

Credit: BMJ

For the study, researchers examined three decades of records from 527 British civil servants who are part of a long-running health study. The volunteers, who are predominantly white middle class men, took brief cognitive tests and recorded their drinking histories on multiple occasions, starting at an average age of 43.

The volunteers received brain scans, repeated the brief cognitive tests and administered a more extensive battery of memory and thinking tests.

Throughout the study, light to moderate drinkers and abstainers performed similarly when matched across age, sex, education, social class, physical activity, smoking and other factors. One exception was that moderate to heavy drinkers showed steeper declines on language fluency tests. The test gives people a minute to name as many words as they can, beginning with a particular letter.

The brain scans also showed differences. Most notably, the heaviest drinkers were most likely to have clear shrinkage of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is linked to dementia.

Researchers also say that more studies are needed, and that no findings suggest that total abstinence is needed to have a healthy lifestyle. 

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