Study: Just four drinks age our brains by ten years

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According to a new study, even a single glass of wine a day could change brain structure.

According to a study published in the journal “Nature Communications, “moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a smaller brain volume and a reduced mass of grey and white brain matter. Scientists from the US universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin-Madison came to this conclusion.

It is well known that chronic excessive alcohol abuse is detrimental to health. It is associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, faster aging, and brain structure and connectivity changes. However, evidence has so far been conflicting about whether light to moderate alcohol consumption can have similar negative consequences.

Drinks change our brains

Scientists led by the US Universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin-Madison now studied this in a massive sample of 36,678 adults from the UK Biobank, an extensive collection of health data from around half a million people in the UK.

According to the study, the negative associations between alcohol consumption and brain structure were evident in people who consumed an average of only one to two units of alcohol per day and became stronger with increasing alcohol consumption, reports the team, which also includes neuro-economist Gökhan Aydogan from the University of Zurich. A pint of beer (about half a liter) or a large glass of wine (1.75 decilitres) was considered two alcohol units in the study.

Four drinks age the brain by ten years

“There is some evidence that the effects of alcohol consumption on the brain are exponential,” explains first author Remi Daviet from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “So one extra drink a day could have a greater impact than all the previous ones that day.” Accordingly, forgoing the last drink in an evening could significantly impact brain aging.

Researchers estimate that the brain aging effect of one alcoholic drink a day compared to no alcohol at all is around one year. Four alcoholic beverages already correspond to aging of more than ten years.

However, the authors emphasize that the study was not designed to establish a causal relationship between alcohol consumption and the change in brain structure, i.e., to prove a cause-effect relationship. Further studies on this would therefore be of great interest.

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