Drinking alcohol may negatively affect consumers' brain size, study finds

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Experts say drinking an average of one alcoholic beverage per day can cause brain changes

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has explored how consumers’ alcohol intake may affect their brain health.

According to the findings, alcohol may have a negative impact on consumers’ brain size; the more alcohol that is consumed, the more brain volume consumers are likely to lose. The researchers say this finding also holds up for moderate drinkers. 

“These findings contrast with scientific and governmental guidelines on safe drinking limits,” said researcher Henry Kranzler. “For example, although the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women consume an average of no more than one drink per day, recommended limits for men are twice that, an amount that exceeds the consumption level associated in the study with decreased brain volume.” 

One drink may have an effect on brain health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 36,000 participants enrolled in the U.K. Biobank. Participants answered questions about their alcohol consumption and underwent brain scans to better understand the link between drinking and brain health. 

The researchers learned that alcohol doesn’t have a positive effect on the brain, with brain health becoming worse for participants who drank more. However, drinking heavily wasn't necessary for participants to experience brain changes.

The study found that having as few as two drinks per day instead of one can age the brain up to two years. Similarly, going from two drinks to three drinks each day aged the brain more than three years. The researchers found that those who had as many as four drinks per day added a decade onto their brain’s health.  

“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,” said researcher Gideon Nave. 

“There is some evidence that the effect of drinking on the brain is exponential,” added study author Remi Daviet. “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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