Can moderate drinking impact brain function?

Posted at 6:41 AM, Sep 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-14 13:41:49-04

Many of us subscribe to the theory that a glass of wine a night might be good for our health, but a recent study is suggesting that even moderate drinking could have a negative impact on our brains.

The study, which was part of a larger study on aging, looked at how much alcohol folks reported drinking, per week, within a 30 year period.

Researchers then examined the brain structure and thinking ability of the participants by using MRI scans and tests of memory functioning.

They found that folks who reportedly drank alcohol, even in moderate amounts, had more difficulty coming up with words on the spur of the moment when tested.

Likewise, the people who drank the most alcohol had the highest risk of brain shrinkage - a form of brain change that has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

As far as how alcohol impacts the brain, it’s not entirely clear, but according to James Leverenz, M.D. of Cleveland Clinic, there are chemical changes that happen in the body that can impact brain function.

Dr. Leverenz, who did not take part in the study, said experts still don’t know for sure how much alcohol is ‘safe’ for the brain, but they do know that excessive drinking can have detrimental effects.

“It seems fairly clear that alcoholism - high levels of alcohol intake - are not good for your brain,” said Dr. Leverenz. “What’s unclear at this point, is what lighter or social drinking does and what that cut-off should be.”

Dr. Leverenz said when it comes to keeping the brain healthy, the most important things that we can do is to stay physically and mentally active.

“Physical exercise is probably number one on my list of what’s good for your brain,” said Dr. Leverenz. “Being social, being interactive; it’s unclear if playing games really helps, but it doesn’t hurt.”

Dr. Leverenz said it’s also important to note that alcohol has an impact on more than just the brain –it also impacts the heart.  He said it’s a good rule of thumb to remember that what’s good for the heart is generally going to be good for the brain as well.

Complete results of the study can be found in The British Medical Journal.