Alcohol Shrinks Your Brain's Main Seat of Memory

Alcohol Shrinks Your Brain's Main Seat of Memory about undefined
In our last issue, I covered some fascinating research that shows regular (and moderate) Champagne drinking is good for the brain. At the same time, I cautioned that daily drinking still doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. This issue we’ll look at some of the reasons why. There’s a lot of contradictory evidence on frequent drinking. Some studies show benefits, others show harm. One thing you can always count on when it comes to health advice – some things the experts say are good for us today will be condemned as dangerous tomorrow and vice versa (think of eggs, pasta, cholesterol or saturated fat, for example). Alcohol used to be thought of as okay in moderation as long as you don’t overindulge. One drink per day for a woman, two for a man is considered "moderate" (the difference is because men are bigger and heavier, on average). But now a few researchers suspect that drinking may be unsafe in any amount – particularly for your brain. Their research demonstrates that alcohol is not a welcome ingredient for an aging brain.

Don’t Have Even One

Research in England has found that even having two drinks a day for men or one a day for women puts your brain at risk.1 The thirty-year study involved 550 people whose average age was 43 at the start of the analysis. They underwent periodic tests of their mental capacities and had an MRI of their brain at the end of the research. The scientists found that the more you drink, the more your hippocampus – considered the memory center of the brain – tends to shrink. The least shrinkage occurs in people who never drink. In this study, even those who average a drink a day -- or less -- were at a greater risk of losing brain tissue than total abstainers. Those who drank more, averaging two or three drinks daily, also had what the researchers call "poorer white matter integrity." That means the brain’s white matter – the connections that let various parts of the brain talk to each other – didn’t function very well. Those impaired connections blur memory and can lead you to feel tongue-tied – making it harder to come up with the words you’re searching for during a conversation. Besides that, the harm to white matter, other studies show, can make you more liable to develop Alzheimer’s disease.2

Increased Danger of Stroke

Alcoholic beverages can also threaten the blood supply to your brain. And it doesn’t take much to make you vulnerable to the danger of a stroke. A study at the University of Finland has found that drinking alcohol more than twice a week increases the risk of dying from a stroke. This analysis discovered that the chances of suffering a cerebral hemorrhage increases with every drink you imbibe.3 According to this research, consuming alcoholic beverages more than twice a week triples your stroke risk compared to someone who never touches a drop.

Smoking and Drinking

Other studies into how alcohol affects our health don’t yield anything reassuring. For instance, a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia shows why drinking encourages some people to accompany their cocktails with a cigarette. It turns out that the nicotine in tobacco helps counter the sedating, sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.4 "We know that many people who drink alcohol also use nicotine, but we don't know why exactly that is," says researcher Mahesh Thakkar, who directs research at the Missouri University School of Medicine's Department of Neurology. "We have found that nicotine weakens the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol by stimulating a response in an area of the brain known as the basal forebrain."

Occasional Indulgence

Some of the scientists in this research think it’s safe to drink once in a while – for a special occasion or a birthday, for example. But if alcohol is a regular part of your daily life, studies show you should probably reconsider. Especially if you want your brain to function better as you get older. To be absolutely fair, there’s contradictory evidence. Here are a couple of links you can look at, if you wish. One of them is a mouse study – I wouldn’t set too much store by that.

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