Moderate drinking could lead to brain damage

Why you should be worried about that shot of whiskey or glass of beer.

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A new study has now revealed that even drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can damage the brain.

The research conducted among 500 adults over 30 years found that people who drank between 14 and 21 units per week were three times more likely to suffer from hippocampal atrophy—damage to the area of the brain involved in memory and spatial navigation.

They also performed more poorly on a specific verbal test, though other language functions appeared to remain unchanged.

A single drink was defined as containing 10 milliliters (eight grammes) of pure alcohol -- the equivalent of a large glass of wine, a pint of five-percent beer, or a shot of spirits such as whisky or vodka.

The University of Oxford and University College London researchers note this is an observational study, so they cannot draw any conclusions relating to cause and effect. Moreover, the sample size was also small.

They also say that all the data on alcohol use was self-reported and participants may have underestimated how much they drank.

Even then, mental performance tests were less conclusive: only one measuring language fluency showed a clear impact, while others showed no decline in brain function.

"Alcohol consumption -- even at moderate levels -- is associated with adverse brain outcomes," the researchers concluded.

The study brought about mixed reactions among various professionals.

While Elizabeth Coulthard, consultant senior lecturer in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol, described the research as robust, she cautioned that as the study was observational, it does not prove that alcohol was causing the damage to the brain.

Also,the majority of the study’s participants were men, while reports of alcohol consumption are often inaccurate with people underestimating how much they drink – an effect that could have exaggerated the apparent impact of moderate amounts of alcohol.

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