“The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” the study’s lead author, Anya Topiwala. told CNN. “Brain volume reduces with age and more severely with dementia. Smaller brain volume also predicts worse performance on memory testing.”
Gray matter is the region in the brain that makes up “important bits where information is processed,” Topiwala said. The study concluded that consuming any type of alcohol was worse than not drinking at all.
“So many people drink ‘moderately,’ and think this either harmless or even protective,” Topiwala said. “As we have yet to find a ‘cure’ for neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, knowing about factors that can prevent brain harm is important for public health.”
The researchers also determined it didn’t matter what kind of drink — wine, spirits or beer — the participants consumed. All alcohol caused damage to the brain.
According to a 2018 study published in the Lancet, alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths.
“While we can’t yet say for sure whether there is ‘no safe level’ of alcohol regarding brain health at the moment, it has been known for decades that heavy drinking is bad for brain health,” Sadie Boniface, head of research at the UK’s Institute of Alcohol Studies, told CNN via email. Boniface was not associated with the University of Oxford study.
Tony Rao, a visiting clinical fellow in Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London, told CNN: “Even at levels of low-risk drinking, there is evidence that alcohol consumption plays a larger role in damage to the brain than previously thought. The (Oxford) study found that this role was greater than many other modifiable risk factors, such as smoking.”
The Oxford study has yet to be peer reviewed.
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