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Could you quit drink for your brain's sake?


The alcohol controversy goes on and on: to drink or not to drink? Good for you? Bad for you? Moderation is OK? Abstinence is the only safe option? Will it twist and turn forever? Well, new research published in the British Medical Journal does indeed tell us abstinence is the only way, if you want to look after your brain that is.

The study followed 550 civil servants whose alcohol intake and cognitive function were repeatedly assessed over 30 years. They also had MRI scans of their brains.

It revealed a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption, cognition, and withering of an important part of the brain called the hippocampus.

Even moderate drinkers were three times as likely as abstainers to have hippocampal shrinkage.

Why is the hippocampus so crucial? Well, it sustains many bodily functions and long-term memory. It also helps you to know where you are, get your bearings, and navigate journeys. All of that goes with dementia.

Recommendations on safe alcohol intake have already been tightened because of evidence linking even light drinking to a raised risk of cancers. England's chief medical officer now advises a maximum weekly intake of 14 units for men and women. This new study strengthens the argument that drinking habits regarded by many as normal are seriously bad for health.

The much-publicised benefits of alcohol ('red wine is good for your heart', etc) are receding fast.

So drinking 21 units a week for men means they are three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy than abstainers. Very light drinking (1-6 units a week) confers no protection. Higher alcohol consumption is also linked to a faster decline in verbal fluency, a test of "executive function".

In this study only one unit a day carries the lowest risk of dementia, with the risk for drinkers clearly exceeding abstainers.

The researchers reported adverse effects at even low levels of alcohol intake, coupled with the finding that drinking more than 14 units a week is associated with both brain disease and cognitive decline.

The chief medical officer's recent decision was undoubtedly right.

We have to rethink our attitude to alcohol. If alcohol does confer any beneficial effects on health, it's probably confined to low intakes of no more than a unit a day.

Even this level of consumption carries a risk relative to abstinence for conditions such as breast cancer.

The benefit of drinking is so low it can't ever be recommended.

We really have to rethink our attitude to alcohol

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 28, 2017
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