Drinking any amount of alcohol causes damage to the brain and other organs, study finds
Amy Woodyatt and Robert Gorter, MD, PhD.
May 19th, 2021
There is no such thing as a “safe” level of drinking, with increased consumption of alcohol-associated with poorer brain health, according to a new study.
In an observational study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers from the University of Oxford studied the relationship between the self-reported alcohol intake of some 25,000 people in the UK and their brain scans.
The researchers noted that drinking had an effect on the brain’s gray matter — regions in the brain that make up “important bits where information is processed,” according to lead author Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical researcher at Oxford.
“The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” Topiwala said via email. (Dr. Gorter: but this is old information as loss of brain tissue is strongly associated with alcohol consumption. And rumors go that wine would be good for your health which I will address later in this article).
“Brain volume reduces with age and more severely with dementia. Smaller brain volume also predicts worse performance on memory testing,” she explained.
“Whilst alcohol only made a small contribution to this (0.8%), it was a greater contribution than other ‘modifiable’ risk factors,” she said, explaining that modifiable risk factors are “ones you can do something about, in contrast to aging.”
Type of alcohol doesn’t matter
The team also investigated whether certain drinking patterns, beverage types, and other health conditions made a difference to the impact of alcohol on brain health.
They found that there was no “safe” level of drinking — meaning that consuming any amount of alcohol was worse than not drinking it. They also found no evidence that the type of drink — such as wine, spirits, or beer — affected the harm done to the brain.
However, certain characteristics, such as high blood pressure, obesity, or binge drinking, could put people at higher risk, researchers added.
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