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A new study suggests that drinking a certain amount of alcohol regularly may shrink the brain.
In a recently concluded 30-year study, scientists from the University of Oxford and University College London followed the lives of 550 British adults. From the time the participants were around 43 years old until they were 73 years old, they regularly submitted reports about their health and lifestyle. These adults took tests for mental skills and, toward the end of the 30-year period, had their brains scanned.
The study revealed that heavy drinking can damage the brain and result in symptoms similar to dementia. Although alcohol-related brain damage is not actually dementia, their symptoms may overlap.
These symptoms were evident in the participants’ cognitive decline. First, shrinkage was observed in the right hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory and navigation. Secondly, moderate drinkers, those who consumed 14 to 21 units weekly, had a decline in language fluency by 14% to 17%. Lastly, heavy drinkers suffered from damages in their brain’s white matter, which sends signals between nerves and facilitates movement.
According to the researchers, the risk of brain damage increases as the amount of alcohol consumption increases. Even light drinkers or those who drank one to six units in a week still risk suffering from brain shrinkage.
For Drinkaware Trust, an independent UK charity, the harmful effects of alcohol can be reduced simply by allowing people to make better choices. With this goal, they created a unit calculator to help drinkers compute and manage their drinking. Their website also showcases a tool that compares alcohol drinkers throughout the United Kingdom.