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Drinking May Lead to Shrinking Brain

A woman drinking wineWhile you may not realize, everybody’s brain shrinks a little tiny bit each and every year as they age. A shrinking brain can lead to cognitive decline and has been associated with certain diseases.

So you’d probably want to do anything you could to help stop that shrinkage as much as possible. A new study suggests that cutting back on the alcohol may be helpful to your brain.

The new research found that the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the total brain volume over time. The study also found that this effect was significantly higher in women than in men.

“Most participants reported low alcohol consumption,” noted the study’s authors, “and men were more likely than women to be moderate or heavy drinkers,”

“There was a significant negative linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total cerebral brain volume.”

Brain volume decreases with age at an estimated rate of 1.9 percent per decade, accompanied by an increase in white matter lesions, according to background information in the article.

Lower brain volumes and larger white matter lesions also occur with the progression of dementia and problems with thinking, learning and memory.

Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease; because the brain receives blood from this system, researchers have hypothesized that small amounts of alcohol may also attenuate age-related declines in brain volume.

Carol Ann Paul, of Wellesley College, Mass., and colleagues studied 1,839 adults (average age 60) who were part of the Framingham Offspring Study, which began in 1971 and includes children of the original Framingham Heart Study participants and their spouses.

Between 1999 and 2001, participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a health examination. They reported the number of alcoholic drinks they consumed per week, along with their age, sex, education, height, body mass index and Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (which calculates stroke risk based on age, sex, blood pressure and other factors).

Although men were more likely to drink alcohol, the association between drinking and brain volume was stronger in women, they note. This could be due to biological factors, including women’s smaller size and greater susceptibility to alcohol’s effects.

“The public health effect of this study gives a clear message about the possible dangers of drinking alcohol,” the authors write.

“Prospective longitudinal studies are needed to confirm these results as well as to determine whether there are any functional consequences associated with increasing alcohol consumption. This study suggests that, unlike the associations with cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption does not have any protective effect on brain volume.”

The study appears in the October issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Source: Archives of Neurology

Drinking May Lead to Shrinking Brain

Psych Central News Editor

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2018). Drinking May Lead to Shrinking Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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