Moderate drinking linked to decline in thinking skills

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Published: September, 2017

Image: © Andy Dean/Thinkstock

Many studies have suggested that drinking alcohol in moderation — one drink per day for women, one or two drinks per day for men — may offer some protection against heart disease. But a study published June 6, 2017, in The BMJ suggests that moderate alcohol drinking may not protect the brain. Researchers studied over 500 men and women, average age 43, who reported the number and size of alcoholic drinks they had each day. Participants underwent tests of their thinking skills periodically and had MRI scans of their brains at the end of the study. A typical drink was considered to be a 12-ounce beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine. The results after 30 years: drinking just over seven typical drinks or less each week did not appear to either hurt or protect brain health. But drinking eight drinks or more per week was associated with shrinkage in the hippocampus (important to memory) and deterioration of white matter (part of the brain's internal wiring), both of which are associated with decline in thinking skills. The study was observational and did not prove that drinking alcohol caused mental decline. The jury is still out, but this study suggests that it would be wise to avoid averaging more than one alcoholic drink per day.

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