New research finds how even 1 drink a day can impact gray and white matter volume in the brain

We are already aware of the fact that excessive drinking can cause harm to various parts of the body. But, new research claims that as little as a few pints of beer or glasses of wine may affect the brain. 

According to this new study led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, alcohol consumption even at very low levels may carry risks to the brain.

An analysis of data from more than 36,000 adults found that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption was associated with reductions in overall brain volume. 

How does alcohol consumption impact the brain?

To give a sense of the impact, the researchers compared the reductions in brain size linked with drinking to those that occur with aging. 

Research showed that adults aged 50 and over who consumed two units (a pint of beer or a glass of wine) per day showed brain changes equivalent to two years of aging.  

“The fact that we have such a large sample size allows us to find subtle patterns, even between drinking the equivalent of half a beer and one beer a day,” says Gideon Nave, a corresponding author on the study and faculty member at Penn’s Wharton School. 

Based on their modeling, each additional alcohol unit consumed per day was reflected in a greater aging effect in the brain. While going from zero to a daily average of one alcohol unit was associated with the equivalent of a half a year of aging, the difference between zero and four drinks was more than 10 years of aging.

“There is some evidence that the effect of drinking on the brain is exponential,” study co-author Remi Daviet said. “So, one additional drink in a day could have more of an impact than any of the previous drinks that day. That means that cutting back on that final drink of the night might have a big effect in terms of brain aging.”

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