Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Drinking Too Much May Shrink Your Brain

(SPM Wire) Hangovers and liver disease may be not be your only worries if you drink too much. New medical research reveals that alcohol consumption is directly related to a reduction in brain volume.

Simply put, the more you drink, the less intellectual real-estate you own. So says a report on excessive alcohol consumption, recently released in the medical journal, "Archives of Neurology."

From 1999 to 2001, 1,839 adults took part in a study exploring the relationship between alcohol consumption and brain capacity. Led by Carol Ann Paul of Wellesley College, researchers gathered data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI's) and standard health examinations. They then cross-referenced this data with information gleaned from participants about their weekly alcohol consumption and basic demographic makeup - such as age, sex, height, body-mass-index, and other indicators.

"There was a significant negative linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total cerebral brain volume," writes Paul and colleagues. "The public health effect of this study gives a clear message about the possible dangers of drinking alcohol."

This is not to say, however, that moderate drinking of alcohol is entirely bad for the human body, with medical experts noting benefits for the heart and a reduction in cardiovascular disease, among other advantages.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the brain.

"This study suggests that, unlike the associations with cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption does not have any protective effect on brain volume," writes Paul and colleagues.

The newly released research also indicates that while men are generally more likely to drink alcohol in excess, women may receive the most ill-effects when it comes to drinking and brain size. Researchers behind the study hypothesized that this probably relates to basic biology, such as the average woman's lower tolerance to alcohol on account of smaller stature when compared with the average man.

A normal brain's volume dwindles at an expected rate of 1.9 percent per decade, according to the researchers, but drinking to excess hastens the natural degradation of brain matter.

All of this leads to the question, should one endorse Benjamin Franklin's assertion that "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to prosper," or is it more desirable to leave alcohol alone entirely?

It is up to each of us to answer this question individually -- hopefully with the help of our doctors.

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