Previous research on alcohol consumption has already linked drinking with changes in brain size. Now, experts have found that moderate drinking can also be a factor in cognitive decline.
Researchers publishing their work in the journal PLOS Medicine state that moderate drinking can lead to excessive iron accumulation in the brain. This is concerning because these iron deposits could contribute to health conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
"We found drinking greater than 7 units of alcohol weekly associated with iron accumulation in the brain," said researcher Anya Topiwala.
Iron in the brain linked to cognitive decline
The researchers analyzed nearly 21,000 consumers who took part in the U.K. Biobank. Each participant reported their alcohol consumption, had MRIs taken of their brain, and completed a series of cognitive and motor function tests.
The team found that drinking more than 7 units of alcohol per week -- or the equivalent of 56 grams -- was associated with higher iron markers in the brain's basal ganglia region. This brain area is responsible for motor control, procedural learning, eye movement, cognition, and emotions, among other things.
Based on the evidence they collected, the researchers say it's likely that brain iron accumulation is a potential factor in declining brain health.
"Higher brain iron in turn linked to poorer cognitive performance. Iron accumulation could underlie alcohol-related cognitive decline," said researcher Anya Topiwala.