Moderate drinking can harm brain, study says

Moderate drinking can harm brain, study says

People who drank 30 units per week were at most risk, moderate drinkers were far more likely to show signs of hippocampal atrophy than light and non-drinkers. Scientists have now shown it is associated with a degeneration of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps memory and spatial navigation. Those who drank heavily had consumed more than two medium glasses of wine or two beers every night of a week while moderate group consumed about 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week.

While it's widely accepted that drinking too much is bad for you, conventional wisdom - and the government's dietary guidelines - says that alcohol can be consumed in moderation. A lexical fluency test involves asking the participant to name as many words as they can within a minute that start with a specific letter.

Similarly, both moderate and heavier drinkers showed a faster decline in language fluency over 30 years - a 14 percent to 17 percent greater reduction, versus abstainers. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers.

Andrew Misell of the Alcohol Concern charity, said: 'We've known for decades that heavy drinking can change the shape and structure of the brain, and lead to symptoms very similar to dementia.

The results had to be adjusted to a whole lot of variables which could affect the memory and other brain functions with or without the influence of alcohol.

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The authors point out that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and say some limitations could have introduced bias.

"Hopefully this research will contribute to a greater understanding of true safe limits for alcohol consumption that ensure protection from future dementia.

We expected to see a protective effect from moderate alcohol consumption over the years, like some studies have previously shown, but we were surprised to find that this was not the case", lead author Anya Topiwala clinical lecturer in old age psychiatry at the University of Oxford, told IBTimes UK.

"These type of studies also can not account for all the (factors), and therefore they can not, and should not, conclude causation", Heneghan said.

But for those who were moderate drinkers, 65 percent of those participants had shrinkage, and 77 percent of unsafe drinkers had the same.

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Few studies have examined the effects of moderate drinking on the brain so the team of researchers set out to investigate if it had a harmful or beneficial association - or no association at all - with brain structure and function.

"An observational study can not truly prove that alcohol causes dementia, but the findings are in keeping with my clinical experience", said Dr. Elizabeth Coulthard, a consultant senior lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the new research. Through these, the researchers were able to analyze the volunteers' brain functions.

White matter of the brain, which transmits information throughout the brain, was also weakened by even moderate drinking. 5 units of alcohol weekly is safe for men.

But she added the study needs to be replicated with more women.

Researchers however said that these studies are not air tight and their findings may not be absolute.

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