Even Moderate Alcohol Consumption Affects the Brain
Previous research suggests that consistent heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of suffering stroke or neurodegenerative changes, and that cerebral abnormalities identified on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are associated with neurocognitive decline and stroke risk.
However, the impact of low to moderate alcohol consumption on the brain is not as well-established, a shortcoming that prompted this study involving 1,909 adults (55 years of age or older).
Subjects were selected randomly from participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which conducted follow-up examinations approximately every three years after baseline (1987-1989). In the current study, subjects received cerebral MRI during the first two years of the third examination (1993-1995), and alcohol intake was determined by self report as "never drinkers," "former drinkers," "occasional drinkers" (less than one drink weekly), "low drinkers" (between one and seven drinks weekly), and "moderate drinkers" (seven or more drinks weekly). One drink equaled four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor, or 12 ounces of beer.
Consumption of each additional alcoholic drink per week was associated with increased ventricular size and sulcal size on MRI, contributing to brain atrophy over time. These findings proved significant, even after adjusting for a host of potential confounding variables, including age, sex, race, body mass index (BMI), smoking, income and diabetes.
According to the authors, their findings suggest "even moderate alcohol intake is associated with brain atrophy ... which [in turn] may be associated with lower cognition and upper and low extremity function." They add that alcohol may contribute to brain atrophy via adverse effects on neurons or cell constituents, or indirectly, by elevating the risk of high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias, leading to reduced blood flow to the brain.
Ding J, Eigenbrodt ML, Mosley TH, et al. Alcohol intake and cerebral abnormalities on magnetic resonance imaging in a community-based population of middle-aged adults. The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Stroke