The Week (US)
No ‘safe’ level of drinking
You might think there’s no harm in relaxing with a single glass of wine or a beer in the evening. But when it comes to brain health, a new study suggests that the only “safe” level of alcohol consumption is zero. Researchers from the University of Oxford looked at the brain scans of 25,000 people who had also self-reported their alcohol intake. The scientists found that drinking had a clear effect on gray matter—important regions of the brain where information gets processed.
“The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” lead author
Anya Topiwala tells CNN.com. “Brain volume reduces with age and more severely with dementia. Smaller brain volume also predicts worse performance on memory testing.” Alcohol consumption accounted for up to a 0.8 percent change in gray matter volume. That might seem like a low figure, but it is a greater contribution than other “modifiable” risk factors—lifestyle decisions that people can change, unlike the process of aging. The contribution of smoking or a high BMI, for example, was four times lower. And contrary to previous studies that indicated there is a benefit to drinking wine in moderation compared with beer or spirits, the study found that the type of drink made no difference to the damage done to the brain.