May 19, 2022

According to a new study, there is no such thing as a “safe” level of drinking—increased alcohol consumption results in poorer brain health.

Researchers from the University of Oxford recorded and studied the relationship between the alcohol intake of 25,000 people in the UK, and the results of their brain scans, in an observational study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Anya Topiwala, lead author and senior clinical researcher at Oxford, stated that the researchers noted that drinking affects the brain’s gray matter, the regions in the brain that make up essential bits where information is processed.

“The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” Topiwala said via email to CNN. “Brain volume reduces with age and more severely with dementia. Smaller brain volume also predicts worse performance on memory testing,” she explained.

“While alcohol only made a small contribution to this (0.8%), it was a greater contribution than other ‘modifiable’ risk factors,” she said, explaining that modifiable risk factors are “ones you can do something about, in contrast to aging.”

The team also investigated whether specific drinking patterns, such as types of beverage and other health factors, have different levels of impact on brain health.

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The results of the study established that there was no “safe” level of drinking. Consuming alcohol of any amount is bad for the brain. The researchers also found that all types of alcoholic drinks, such as wine, spirits, or beer, can harm the brain.

Tony Rao, of Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London told CNN that the study’s findings could have not arisen by chance given the large sample size. 

“Previous research has found that subtle changes which demonstrate damage to the brain can present in ways that are not immediately detectable on routine testing of intellectual function and can progress unchecked until they present with more noticeable changes in memory,” he said.