Drinking Alcoholic Beverages Moderately May Bring About Cognitive Decline

CBS News

They say that slashing the amount of alcoholic drinks each week may improve your brain health for the future. Is this true? Can drinking moderately be helpful?

Researchers have been looking into the pros and cons of alcohol. They say that having as few as two alcoholic drinks each week may bring about cognitive decline. This was according to a study published recently in PLOS Medicine.

Why is this the effect of drinking? That’s because drinking seems to increase the amount of iron that’s found in our brain. When the levels of iron increase, this could bring about neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“Even small amounts of alcohol can harm your brain,” stated Anya Topiwala. She is a doctor of psychiatry, a senior clinical researcher at the University of Oxford, and the lead author of the study. “We found that the amount people said that they drank was related to the amount of iron in their brain. The more they drank, the more iron there seemed to be.”

The elevated iron levels were also linked to demonstrable cognitive effects. “We also did memory tests on these people, and it seemed that higher iron levels in the brain meant worse performance on memory tests,” Dr. Topiwala said.

Even When Alcohol is Consumed in Modest Amounts, It Still Comes with Brain Risks

The University of Oxford team looked closely into brain scans. The participants also had to provide self-reported alcohol data. This came from a subset of 20,000 people who gave to the UK Biobank. The said company a massive collection of health information that comes from half a million adults ages 40 to 69. This was also collected from 2006 to 2010. Topiwala said that this Biobank data is extremely important as well as large, the numbers skews more towards the middle class, whiter, and better educated. This came from the citizens of the UK.

As for the average alcohol consumption, it was reported that the participants had around 18 units each week. In other words, they had around six glasses of wine or seven bottles of beers. In the study involved, those who consumed as little as seven units of alcohol per week (which is around (two to three glasses of wine), showed that their brains also had higher levels of iron. According to the study authors may, the number may also increase their risk for future cognitive deficits.

The year 2018 was the latest available data. According to the numbers, about two-thirds of Americans reported to having a few glasses in the last 12 months. This was according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of the numbers seen drank lightly. This means that they had less than three drinks each week. As for moderate drinking, around 15 percent had it. This means that the women had 4 to 7 drinks each week while the men had 4 to 14 drinks weekly. As for the last 5 percent of the group, they admitted to heavy drinking.

Look Into the Amount of Alcohol and Not the Kind

Researchers also looked into the type of alcohol involved such as wine, beer, and spirits. They did not observe the differences when it comes to the risks involved. “It was the amount of alcohol you drank, rather than what you drank it in,” said Topiwala.

When it comes to cognitive deficits, they considered executive function (which indicates problem solving skills) and fluid intelligence (which indicates puzzle solving skills). People who drank showed that they were slower in both types when the iron in their brain increased.

The results showed the cumulative effects, and because of such, shared Topiwala, cutting back a few drinks each week could actually help lower the amount of iron accumulation in the brain. In short, the less you drink, the less amount of iron you’ll have, and this could benefit your long-term cognitive function.

This is the very first study to look into the relationship between moderate drinking and cognitive decline. Previous research made hinted that people can take a few drinks per week because this could actually have a positive impact on your cognitive health.

“Originally, we were told that moderate drinking was protective for the brain,” said Topiwala. “This is another piece in the puzzle to suggest that actually it’s probably not — it’s probably harmful.”

Topiwala believes that future research is needed, particularly on this topic. The results could prove more clearly that high iron levels could actually accrue damage in the brain. The damage may bring about memory issues, and knowing more about it could assist and educate healthcare providers and their patients so that proper interventions are made. The ultimate goal is to prolong or maintain cognitive health.