It is recommended that abstention is not possible that men should only have a maximum of two servings of alcohol per day, and women just one serving. But even this amount can have a detrimental effect on our brains, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers estimate that just one drink of alcohol a day begins to damage the brain, and each additional drink increases the risk.
Changes in the brain equivalent to 10 years of aging
To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed MRI scans of the brains of more than 36,000 people. “Having a very large sample allowed us to find subtle differences” explains Gideon Nave, one of the study’s authors. Specifically, the researchers noted that regular consumption of two glasses of alcohol a day was associated with changes in the brain equivalent to two years of age. With three drinks, it was three and a half years. On the other hand, going from zero to one unit of alcohol had no great effect on the brain: half a year of aging. In the end, the difference between drinking zero and four glasses of alcohol a day was more than ten years.
Reduction of gray and white matter
These results are at odds with scientific and governmental guidelines on drinking limits,” says Henry Kranzler, one of the authors. For example, while the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (an organization that raises awareness of the dangers of alcohol) recommends that women should not drink more than an average of one glass per day, the limits set for men are twice as high, more than the level of consumption that our study found to be associated with a reduction in brain volume. The aging that scientists talk about is actually a reduction in the volume of gray and white matter in our brains. The former is used to store information and perform mental operations, while the latter is responsible for the distribution of information in the nervous system.
Is it better to have one drink every day of the week or seven drinks in one night?
In the future, the authors would like to continue their work to better understand why even low alcohol consumption harms the brain. Finally, they would also like to further analyze other types of drinkers: “In this study, we looked at average consumption, but we are interested in whether drinking one beer a day is better than not drinking at all during the week and then seven on the weekend,” explains Gideon Nave. There is evidence that excessive alcohol consumption is worse for the brain, but we have not yet examined this link in more detail. The next study will provide the answer.