Even a one drink a day, according to a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is connected with a shrinkage of the brain.
According to a recent research of middle-aged and older persons, drinking even a single pint of beer or glass of wine a day causes the brain to shrink, and the impact becomes worse as the number of drinks consumed daily increases.
The research revealed that the brains of persons who drank two alcoholic units per day — comparable to a pint (16 ounces) of beer or a 6-ounce glass of wine — appeared two whole years older than people who didn’t. It literally ages their brain. The study surveyed over 36,000 people in the United Kingdom and was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
More than 36,000 items in the UK Biobank database, which includes medical and genetic information on about 500,000 middle-aged and elderly British adults, were examined by the research team in this study.
The researchers conclude in the paper that “the negative associations between alcohol intake and brain macrostructure and microstructure are already apparent in individuals consuming an average of only one to two daily alcohol units, and become stronger as alcohol intake increases.”
And the more alcoholic beverages participants ingested, the greater the changes in their brains compared to those who did not consume any. According to the study’s authors, the brains of those who used three alcoholic units per day (equal to 8.5 ounces of wine) seemed 3.5 years older, while the brains of people who consumed four units per day (corresponding to little under half a conventional bottle of wine) appeared 10 years older.
The study, which was published on March 4 in the journal Nature, adds to a growing body of research that has indicated that any quantity of alcohol use is harmful, and that it is particularly harmful to cardiovascular and brain function in particular.
“These findings contrast with scientific and governmental guidelines on safe drinking limits,” said Henry Kranzler, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Studies of Addiction and corresponding author of the study, in a statement.
“For example, although the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women consume an average of no more than one drink per day,” he added, “recommended limits for men are twice that, an amount that exceeds the consumption level associated in the study with decreased brain volume.”
The researchers discovered that increasing the number of drinks per day from one to two or three had a substantial influence on gray and white matter, a frequent marker of aging, while increasing from zero to one drink didn’t have much of an impact.
“It’s not linear,” said Daviet, co-corresponding author and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the statement. “It gets worse the more you drink.”
In future research, the researchers want to follow up with people over a longer period of time to determine if drinking is the root cause of brain shrinkage. They also hope to investigate how other habits, such as binge drinking, may influence the brain.
The researchers also pointed out that because of the exponential nature of the link, people who drink the most are also the most likely to gain by drinking less, even if it’s only one less drink per day, according to the findings.
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