Excessive drinking can shrink the brain, a new study has shown.
Scientists scanned the brains of 1,839 volunteers aged 34 to 88 who were categorised according to their weekly alcohol consumption.
The study found that the more people drank on a regular basis, the more their brain volume decreased.
Those consuming more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week had an average 1.6 reduction in the ratio of brain volume to skull size, compared with non-drinkers.
Brain volume decreased 0.25 per cent on average for every jump in drinking category.
Volunteers were classified as either non-drinkers, former drinkers, low drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week) or high drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week).
Study leader Carol Ann Paul, from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, US, said: ‘Research has shown that there is a beneficial effect of alcohol in reducing incidence of cardiovascular disease in people who consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol. However, this study found that greater alcohol consumption was negatively correlated with brain volume.’
The findings, presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston, also found that drinking had a bigger impact on brain volume in women than in men.
Women in their 70s appeared to be the most affected by large amounts of alcohol.
People with a 12-year history of heavy drinking had smaller brains than those who were more recent additions to the high drinking group.
Alcohol spending up
Average household spending on alcoholic drinks – the most accurate measure of alcohol consumption – has soared by 21 per cent in the UK in the past five years.
Each year Britons now spend almost £42 billion on booze, compared with £34.6 billion in 2000, according to latest figures from Alcohol Concern.
A spokesman for the charity said: ‘This study adds to what we already know, which is that alcohol misuse and dependency can lead to generalised brain damage and neurological disorders.
‘It sends a clear message that misuse and dependency doesn’t only result in liver cirrhosis, but can affect a whole range of body functions.’
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