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Medicine Science

Moderate Drinking Can Damage the Brain, Claim Researchers (theguardian.com) 325

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can damage the brain and impair cognitive function over time, researchers have claimed. Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London, describe how they followed the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 men and women over 30 years from 1985. At the end of the study the team took MRI scans of the participants' brains. None of the participants were deemed to have an alcohol dependence, but levels of drinking varied. After excluding 23 participants due to gaps in data or other issues, the team looked at participants' alcohol intake as well as their performance on various cognitive tasks, as measured at six points over the 30 year period. The team also looked at the structure of the participants' brains, as shown by the MRI scan, including the structure of the white matter and the state of the hippocampus -- a seahorse-shaped area of the brain associated with memory. After taking into account a host of other factors including age, sex, social activity and education, the team found that those who reported higher levels of drinking were more often found to have a shrunken hippocampus, with the effect greater for the right side of the brain. While 35% of those who didn't drink were found to have shrinkage on the right side of the hippocampus, the figure was 65% for those who drank on average between 14 and 21 units a week, and 77% for those who drank 30 or more units a week.
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Moderate Drinking Can Damage the Brain, Claim Researchers

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  • How much is a unit? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @06:10AM (#54566715) Homepage
    From the study: 1 unit is 10mL or 8g of alcohol. 14 units (UK guidance per week for men an women) is 4 pints of high strength beer (5.2%) or 5 large glasses of 14% wine. 24.5 units (US guidance for men) is equivalent to 7 pints of beer or 9 glasses of wine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So these people did not have a "moderate" alcohol intake, they had a high alcohol intake.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They were drinking this over the course of a week. It would be a high amount if consumed in a single day, but not when spread out over 7.

        • They were drinking this over the course of a week. It would be a high amount if consumed in a single day, but not when spread out over 7.

          If you are on average consuming one or more pints of beer every day then that is a rather brisk consumption of the product. Just because they aren't typically drinking enough to get plastered doesn't make it moderate unless you are comparing them to alcoholics.

          • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @07:41AM (#54566967)

            Four pints over seven days isn't one or more per day.

          • >unless you are comparing them to alcoholics.

            Study performed in London.....

          • If you are on average consuming one or more pints of beer every day then that is a rather brisk consumption of the product.

            One pint of beer a day does not an alcoholic make, unless you are looking at statistics designed to generate tax revenues. It has to impinge upon your life in some way; it's got to affect your health, or your social status, or in some other way actually negatively impact your life.

            Now, if you are a delicate flower, and drinking an eleven percent microbrew every day, maybe that's alcoholism. But a pint a day of a five percent ale? That's in a grey area at most.

          • If you are on average consuming one or more pints of beer every day then that is a rather brisk consumption of the product.

            You appear to have misspelled "hour" as "day" .

        • According to the latest guidelines, it is above moderate consumption.

          A pint of beer every day is definitely high consumption.

          I'm not trying to act holy, I'm going to a music festival in a couple of weeks, where they daily intake will probably be around 10-15 pints for most people. But it's certainly not healthy, at least not if it's something you do on a regular basis.

      • Depends, if they were Irish they might call that extremely low alcohol intake.

      • It's all relative. My wife keeps trying to convince me I'm an alcoholic, and I only drink 1-3 16oz US beers (2.5%) each week. I never drink more than 1 on the same day, never on consecutive days, never more than 3 in a week, and when I pick up one of the 5% beers, I actually get a buzz so that's considered a "binge" for me.

        To my wife, 3-7 units per week = alcoholic.

        To my Irish-descended Navy family, 3-7 units per week = teetotaler.

    • 14 units (UK guidance per week for men an women) is 4 pints of high strength beer (5.2%)

      Wait, they call 5.2% high strength beer? No wonder California and Oregon are handling the earth right now.

  • Moderate? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @06:18AM (#54566731)

    While 35% of those who didn't drink were found to have shrinkage on the right side of the hippocampus, the figure was 65% for those who drank on average between 14 and 21 units a week, and 77% for those who drank 30 or more units a week.

    Per the article 14 units = approximately 6 pints of beer. Is that really moderate drinking? That's basically having a drink or more a day. Not alcoholic territory or anything but that's pretty steady consumption. Moderate drinking to my mind would be maybe a pint or two a week at most. Not having a drink with dinner every night. I'm not being critical. If someone enjoys a beer or glass of wine with dinner that's fine as long as they do so responsibly but it isn't what I consider moderate consumption.

    Anyway, alcohol isn't good for you. News at 11... I'm pretty sure that anyone drinking a pint a day isn't overly concerned about the health effects, good or bad.

    • by Entrope ( 68843 )

      The 1920s called, they wanted their busybody-temperance movement back.

      The UK government is funding studies like these by the boatload. Who cares if 95% of them have negative results? 5% of them have findings that are statistically significant at the 5% level, so that's enough for the government to order people what to do (or not to do).

      • by sjbe ( 173966 )

        The 1920s called, they wanted their busybody-temperance movement back.

        Your AA sponsor called and wondered why you weren't at the last meeting...

        The UK government is funding studies like these by the boatload.

        And that is relevant why? And what does it have to do with the definition of "moderate drinking"?

        • Re:Moderate? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Entrope ( 68843 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @08:02AM (#54567085) Homepage

          The high-school-level statistical explanation: Statistical studies are often described as "statistically significant" if their results could happen by chance less than 5% of the time. You can usually find such a study by luck if you try 14 times.

          The ugly reality: You usually need many fewer than 14 tries, because of how exploratory analyses and controlling for related variables violate the assumptions underlying the probability calculations. Researchers never have enough information to really adjust for their statistical manipulations of the data. This study is particularly weak because it only used ~511 people (out of the 550 claimed in the summary, 23 had pre-existing anomalies in brain structure or missing data, and 16 had poor-quality brain scans, and they dropped some other people out for specific sub-analyses) and they broke these into lots of smaller groups to try to control for variables that could influence alcohol consumption and/or hippocampus shrinkage.

    • >> 6 pints of beer (a week). Is that really moderate drinking?

      In the US, it is. I hit this most summers easily. Figure:
      1x with coworkers after work
      2x while grilling a family meal
      2x while at a neighborhood cookout
      1x kicking back answering late night email
    • Re:Moderate? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @02:28PM (#54570021) Homepage

      A drink or two a week? That's light drinking. I think you must move in social circles where people rarely drink at all.

      In southern Germany, for example, it's not at all unusual to have a beer with your lunch, and another with dinner. In France or Italy, it will be a glass of wine - about the same amount of alcohol. That's 1-2 drinks per day, every day. Plus a couple of extra drinks with your buddies on Friday or Saturday. That's average, or moderate drinking in cultures where alcohol is a normal part of life. I'm typing this in the evening, after work, while sipping my second beer of the day.

      As in all things in life, there's a trade-off. Alcohol helps people relax after a stressful day. It also has a few health benefits (or some of the other things contained in drinks do). However, it's also not great for your liver, and possibly your brain, and alcohol abuse is a possibility. Life's a bitch, and then you die.

      Heck, you can die from drinking too much water. [latimes.com]

  • 30 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FudRucker ( 866063 )
    are you sure it is not age related? between 20 & 50 is a long time. I know I cant do now what i could do when i was 20
    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      are you sure it is not age related? between 20 & 50 is a long time. I know I cant do now what i could do when i was 20

      Stop it! If you correlate more facts the data can't be spun in the desired way. Shame on you.

    • Age corrected. (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @08:07AM (#54567115) Homepage

      are you sure it is not age related? between 20 & 50 is a long time

      Age was taken into account.
      Still, some people degraded faster than others in this span of time.
      And those were significantly more likely to also be drinking.
      - Thus the actual conclusion that one real scientist should take home : there's a statistical link between the two.
      - Thus also the baseless spin that the press (and even the original BMJ article) are trying to take on it : even light drinking cause brain destruction

    • Have you been drinking?
    • by lazarus ( 2879 )

      I can tell you that after almost 2000 years of moderate drinking I

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @06:23AM (#54566753)
    isn't it?
  • Oh dear (Score:2, Insightful)

    *Pops open another cold one, leans back, doesn't give a shit*

  • I'm on an anti-seizure medication and it has the same warnings. And its made explicitly treat my condition with minimum damaging affects on my brain. I would imagine something brewed with little to no consideration on the long term implications would have a worse effect, We just have to admit that everything we take into our bodies have both positive and negative effects. We just have to be responsible for what we consume and how much.
  • So these people who ingest 140-210 ml of ethanol per week are considered moderate drinkers?

    I think my hippocampus is safe for now.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
    Scientists prove WATER IS WET!
  • Or maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @08:00AM (#54567065)
    They turned to drinking to cope with dealing with stupid people at their work and the real cause of the problem is that they lost brain cells from dealing with said stupid people.
  • Apparently 14 to 21 units is in this study categorized as moderate drinking. It sounds like rather a lot to me. It's decidedly more than the occasional glass of wine with dinner or drinking alcohol at social functions. For the age group in question, it sounds like a lot and adverse effects shouldn't be all that surprising?

    • There has been a lot of 'guidance' saying a glass of wine a day is good for your health in the popular literature. To me it's a lot, i've noticed if I drink more than 1 or 2 drinks a week it isn't nearly as pleasurable, so why do it?
  • That not true! Me brain go worksing still! Drinking good! ;)

  • Because I read now that a 750ml bottle of wine contains 10 units of alcohol, while I was always taught that it contains six glasses, and that normal glasses all more or less compared in their alcohol amount (and were therefore considered a 'unit'). So 21 units would be 2 bottles of wine a week. That, in my mind, is still somewhat heavy drinking. Not overly so, but still.

  • Sounds like they drank too much to me...

  • Fortunately, I only drink pints, never units.
  • not drinking (moderately) can damage the mood.
  • I imagine there is a big difference, biologically speaking, if you have one beer a night, Monday through Saturday, than if you were to drink six pints on a Friday night. Experience tells me it certainly feels different the next morning.

  • "U feckin' knobs are lookin' fer a burst mooth."

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Wednesday June 07, 2017 @11:16AM (#54568347)

    Think I'll wait a week, until the next study contradicts this one.

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