Remember how moderate drinking was once believed to be a boon to our health, our hearts and our brains? Well, thanks to a recent study, that bubble just burst.
According to new research published in the British Medical Journal, moderate drinking (the equivalent of one 5-ounce glass of wine per day plus "a little extra" on the weekends) can cause some concerning changes to the brain. These changes include three times the risk of right-sided hippocampal atrophy (a type of brain damage that can impact spatial navigation and potentially lead to Alzheimer's and dementia) of non-drinkers.
The study, which tracked 550 participants for more than 30 years since 1985, also found that heavy drinkers (those who had two glasses of wine or beer each night) had the largest mental decline. This decline was evident in their "lexical fluency" (the ability to name as many words starting with the same letter in a short amount of time) as well as poorer white matter integrity, which helps us process thoughts quickly.
"We knew that drinking heavily for long periods of time was bad for brain health, but we didn't know at these levels," said Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer in old-age psychiatry at the University of Oxford and co-author of the research, reports The Guardian.
But what surprised researchers the most was how moderate drinkers were affected.
Among those who didn't drink at all, 35 percent had a shrinkage on the right side of the hippocampus portion of the brain compared to 77 percent of heavy drinkers, who had a similar shrinkage. For moderate drinkers, the figure was 65 percent.
This isn't the first study where the "one glass of wine a day" habit has come under scrutiny. A study published last month concluded that a glass of wine a day could also increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
If anything, these studies may be a good wake-up call to reassess our drinking habits, including whether we've been grossly underestimating what "moderate drinking" actually means.
But even if more research does continue to validate that moderate drinking leads to cognitive decline, not all hope is lost. In fact, research shows that regaining brain function (along with a resurgence of new brain cells) is possible within a year of abstaining from alcohol. And a few other added benefits of kicking the alcohol habit include a lowered risk of certain cancers, pancreatitis, digestive problems, stroke, depression and anxiety.
We'll raise a mocktail to that.
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What Do YOU Think?
Do you buy the link between cognitive decline and moderate drinking? Will it impact your drinking habits at all? Or do you think more research needs to be done to confirm the findings? Tell us in the comments!