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Longevity Briefs: For Every Drink of Alcohol Your Brain Gets 5 Days Older

Posted on 19 January 2022

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: National surveys have found that 71% of adults in the US have drank alcohol in the past year, but that only 12.6% of adults in the United States have engaged in “high-risk drinking” in this period.

Current consensus suggests that, compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers, moderate alcohol consumption offers health benefits, including reduced risk of developing dementia and cardiovascular disease.

However, more recent data hints at the facts that this may not be true. That, in fact, any level of alcohol consumption prematurely ages the brain.

What did the researchers do: To investigate this scientists decided to look at the impact of low-moderate alcohol consumption on our brain health. The researchers used MRI scans, which showed changes in grey matter in the brain, to develop a model to predict something called the ‘brain age gap’ of individuals in the study.

The ‘brain age gap’ is the difference in number of years between the brain age prediction and individuals’ chronological age. In other words, it is how healthy the brain is, compared to an average brain of the same age.

They then compared the brain age gap of non-drinkers to those who consume a low-moderate amount of alcohol of the same chronological age, to determine which group was healthier.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: As you can see from the graph below, the results identified that there was a significant association between the total number of drinks consumed and the brain age gap. The data showed that the brain age gap increased by approximately 0.014 years for each alcoholic drink consumed throughout the study.

Association between total number of drinks consumed over 90 days and the brain age gap in the replication cohort

In other words, for every drink they consumed, the participant’s brain aged by 5 days.

The authors concluded that

Our results specifically suggest that even low levels of alcohol consumption may have a negative impact on the brain

and that…

This striking observation coincides with a recent large-scale epidemiological study showing that the level of alcohol consumption that minimises overall health risks was zero alcoholic drinks per day

It is important to emphasise that the brain age prediction was based on MRI scans, which does not totally accurately equate to our true brain age.

Despite this, my dry January has just been extended…

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