A new study suggests that moderate drinkers are more likely to suffer from brain signals associated with memory loss and less-than-passable results in language tests.

Moderate drinking was defined to be equivalent to between 8 and 12 bottles of beer, small glasses of wine, or liquor shots per week.

Image credit: NPR
Image credit: NPR

The study only focused on non-drinkers, light drinkers, and moderate drinkers, leaving abusive drinkers outside of the spectrum as this type of drinking has already been associated with a risk of dementia and other forms of brain damage.

Drinking is not good for the brain in most cases

According to the study’s authors from Oxford University, previous studies suggest that moderate amounts of alcohol are potentially harmless. But new evidence proposing an increased risk of cancer associated with alcohol intake had the U.K. government revise its alcohol guidelines. U.S. guidelines recommend that women should drink no more than one alcohol unit per day, while men should not drink more than two.

Previous research shows that light-to-moderate drinking leads to a lower risk of dementia, cardiac arrest, and stroke. The issue is that brain scans have failed to show any protective effect caused by any degree of alcohol consumption. On the other hand, moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a reduction in brain volume and gray matter atrophy.

To study alcohol consumption in the long term, researchers looked into data acquired from 550 subjects deemed to be non-dependant on the substance. Researchers expected that light drinkers would be “protected” against adverse brain conditions, while heavy drinkers would suffer adverse cognitive changes.

Image credit: Rehabreviews.com
Image credit: Rehabreviews.com

Researchers measured how much alcohol each participant drunk per week, and how frequently they decided to drink.

The participant was classified as “abstinent” if they drunk less than 1 unit of alcohol per week. Light drinkers were defined to drink between 1 and 7 units of alcohol. Moderate drinkers were defined as those that drunk between 7 and 14 units per week for women and between 7 and 21 units for men. Finally, “unsafe” drinkers were classified as those that drunk in such a way that they wouldn’t fit the classifications mentioned above.

The collected data included questionnaires provided to the participants to survey their personality traits. Additionally, their cognitive function and lexical and semantic skills were analyzed. They were asked to come up with as many words as they could that began with a particular letter. Also, most of them were subjected to MRI scans.

Researchers saw that 20 percent of male participants and 14 percent of females drank over the 2016 U.K. guidelines on alcohol consumption; also, participants that drunk higher levels of alcohol saw their language fluency decline when compared with those that drunk less alcohol.

By analyzing brain scans, researchers determined that subjects who drunk the most were more likely to have shrunken brains, particularly having an atrophied hippocampus, a condition that’s associated with dementia. The risk of brain atrophy was not lower for moderate drinkers, as they were three times more likely to display the condition when compared to abstainers.

Source: British Medical Journal