May 28, 2024

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Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain



 

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain.

The common belief that a little alcohol can uplift one’s mood while excessive drinking is detrimental to physical health begs the question: Is this notion accurate?

The unquestionable harm of prolonged excessive alcohol consumption on physical health has been previously established. Robust evidence has indicated that heavy drinking leads to structural changes in the brain, including significant reductions in both gray and white matter.

On March 4, 2022, a study titled “Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank” was published in Nature Communications. The research, conducted by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed data from over 36,000 middle-aged and elderly individuals. The findings indicated that even moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a decrease in brain volume.

 

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

 

 

Alcohol-Induced Brain Changes Resemble Age-Related Changes:

The study encompassed data from 36,678 middle-aged individuals (52.8% female) sourced from the UK Biobank repository. This data included information on age, daily alcohol units consumed, and the distribution of gray matter volume (GMV) and white matter volume (WMV) in the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to calculate these volumes in different brain regions.

 

To comprehend the potential relationship between alcohol consumption and the brain, it was crucial to control for confounding variables. The team controlled for factors such as age, height, handedness, gender, smoking status, socioeconomic status, genetic lineage, and county of residence. Additionally, overall brain volume data was adjusted for head size.

 

The analysis revealed that daily alcohol consumption ranging from zero to one alcohol unit (equivalent to 10 mL of pure alcohol or about 8 grams in weight) had minimal impact on brain volume. However, a daily consumption of one to two alcohol units or more led to reductions in both gray and white matter volumes.

 

Daviet, one of the study’s authors, stated, “This change is not linear. The more you drink, the worse it is.”

 

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

Whole-brain normalized gray and white matter volumes in relation to daily alcohol intake (Source: Nature Communications )

 

 

Furthermore, to ascertain whether alcohol-related reductions in gray and white matter volumes were confined to specific brain regions, researchers estimated regression models to quantify the relationship between alcohol intake and brain volume.

 

The results indicated that the changes in brain volume among alcohol consumers were not localized to specific brain regions; rather, they were widespread throughout the entire brain, resembling changes associated with aging.

 

The analysis revealed that each daily alcohol unit consumed reflected a greater aging effect in the brain. Specifically, compared to abstaining from alcohol, an average daily consumption of 1 alcohol unit was equivalent to aging the brain by half a year; 2 units correlated to a 2-year brain aging, 3 units to a 3.5-year aging, and 4 units to a brain aging of over 10 years, as compared to not drinking at all.

 

These findings suggest an exponential impact of alcohol consumption on brain aging.

 

 

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

Brain gray and white matter volumes in relation to daily alcohol intake (Source: Nature Communications )

 

Of course, this study has some limitations. The sample was limited to middle-aged individuals of European descent residing in the UK. Additionally, self-reported alcohol intake from the UK Biobank reflected drinking habits over the past year, making it susceptible to recall bias.

The study did not consider individuals previously diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and its design only allows for revealing correlations, not causal effects.

 

In future endeavors, the authors hope to leverage large databases to delve deeper into alcohol-related issues, determining causal relationships rather than just correlations.

 

Nave, one of the researchers, remarked, “This study focuses on average consumption, but we’re curious if having one beer a day is better than not drinking for a week and then having seven beers on the weekend. However, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on this yet.”

 

Similarly, a study involving 28 million people published in The Lancet in 2018 asserted that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption; any amount negatively impacts health. Thus, the safest amount of alcohol is none at all.

 

This study corroborates previous research and further highlights the damaging effects of alcohol on brain structure, accelerating brain aging.

 

 

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

 

 

 

 

References:
1. Daviet, R., Aydogan, G., Jagannathan, K. et al. Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. Nat Commun 13, 1175 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28735-5

2. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2

Every Drop of Alcohol You Consume is Slowly Shrinking Your Brain

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