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Even Moderate Drinking Could Lead To Memory Loss

Update Date: Jun 12, 2017 11:11 AM EDT

According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal, moderate drinkers are more likely to develop brain changes that could lead to memory loss.

"We knew that drinking heavily for long periods of time was bad for brain health, but we didn't know at these levels," co-author Anya Topiwala said.

The study, conducted by Topiwala and a few researchers from the University of Oxford and the University College of London, observed the performance of 550 men and women over a 30-year period. Once the study ended, the team took MRI scans of the participants' brains to analyze the results.

While none of the participants were alcohol dependent, each individual's level of drinking varied. After eliminating 23 participants due to gaps in data or other issues, researchers looked at their subjects' alcohol intake and their performance on various cognitive tasks.

Moderate drinking, in this study, was defined as eight to 12 small glasses of wine, bottles of beer, or shots of liquor each week.

Light to moderate drinkers and abstainers performed similarly when matched for sex, age, education, physical activity, social class, and other factors. Those who participated in moderate to heavy drinking, however, displayed a rapid decline on the language fluency test, which asks participants to name as many words as they can in one minute, beginning with a particular letter.

The brain scans also showed differences. The heaviest drinkers of the bunch seemed to have a shrinkage in the hippocampus, a change that can lead to dementia. Even moderate drinkers were three times more likely than abstainers to show hippocampal shrinkage, researchers said.

"I wouldn't recommend light to moderate drinking as a strategy to avoid cognitive decline," Topiwala said in reference to the results.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, women should drink no more than one drink per day, while men are recommended to limit themselves to two drinks per day. 

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