A new study has found that there is no such thing as a “safe” level of drinking.
In the observational study carried out by researchers from the University of Oxford, scientists studied the relationship between the self-reported alcohol intake of some 25,000 people in the UK, and their brain scans.
They found that drinking had an effect on the brain’s gray matter — regions in the brain that make up “important bits where information is processed,” according to lead author Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical researcher at Oxford.
“The more people drank, the less the volume of their gray matter,” Topiwala said
“Brain volume reduces with age and more severely with dementia. Smaller brain volume also predicts worse performance on memory testing,” she explained.
“Whilst alcohol only made a small contribution to this (0.8%), it was a greater contribution than other ‘modifiable’ risk factors,” she said, explaining that modifiable risk factors are “ones you can do something about, in contrast to aging.”
The scientists also investigated whether certain drinking patterns, beverage types and other health conditions made a difference to the impact of alcohol on brain health.
They found that there was no “safe” level of drinking — meaning that consuming any amount of alcohol was worse than not drinking it.
They also found no evidence that the type of drink such as wine, spirits or beer affected the harm done to the brain.
Scientists also found out that certain characteristics, such as high blood pressure, obesity or binge-drinking, could put people at higher risk.
“So many people drink ‘moderately,’ and think this is either harmless or even protective,” Topiwala said.
“As we have yet to find a ‘cure’ for neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, knowing about factors that can prevent brain harm is important for public health,” she added.
Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to a study published in The Lancet in 2018.
“While we can’t yet say for sure whether there is ‘no safe level’ of alcohol regarding brain health at the moment, it has been known for decades that heavy drinking is bad for brain health,” Sadie Boniface, head of research at the UK’s Institute of Alcohol Studies, told CNN.
The research has not yet been peer reviewed.