Alcohol use is a contributor to global disease burden, healthcare costs, and economic losses. Heavy alcohol use, defined as 3 or more drinks for women and 4 or more drinks for men in a day, has indicated reduction in the thinking brain prefrontal cortex and the memory processing hippocampus in MRI studies.
Researchers were interested in the impact on brain structure of moderate drinking. They examined self-report data about alcohol consumption for a year, along with brain scans at the end of that year, from 36,678 participants (40-69 years) from the UK Biobank. They found that alcohol intake reduces brain volume and structure. In the UK, consuming just one drink daily was associated with smaller brain volume, in both men and women, as compared to people who did not consume alcohol on a daily basis.
The study limitations include self-reported data about alcohol consumption, only 1 year of that data, a study design that did not inquire about prior alcohol use including alcohol use disorder, and the participants were all older and of European ancestry.
Takeaway: Daily alcohol consumption may shrink important brain structures. It is worth considering replacing some alcohol consumption with other activities or forms of stress reduction.
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Remi Daviet, et al., Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank, 13 Nature Communications 1175, Mar. 4, 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28735-5.