Even moderate alcohol intake could reduce the brain’s ability to produce new cells by 40%, research suggests.
Regularly having as little as 3 to 4 alcoholic drinks could reduce the structural integrity of the adult brain.
Ms Megan Anderson, the study’s first author, said:
“Moderate drinking can become binge drinking without the person realizing it.
In the short term there may not be any noticeable motor skills or overall functioning problems, but in the long term this type of behavior could have an adverse effect on learning and memory.”
The conclusions come from a rodent study in which the animals were given the equivalent amount of alcohol to reach the legal driving limit.
This amount of alcohol did not have much effect on their motor coordination.
However, the results showed that the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus — an area critical for memory — were reduced by 40%.
Ms Anderson said:
“…this substantial decrease in brain cell numbers over time could have profound effects on the structural plasticity of the adult brain because these new cells communicate with other neurons to regulate brain health.
If this area of your brain was affected every day over many months and years, eventually you might not be able to learn how to get somewhere new or to learn something new about your life.
It’s something that you might not even be aware is occurring.”
Drinker who are ‘at risk’ are currently defined as men who have 14 drinks per week or more and women who have 7 or more per week.
Ms Anderson said:
“This research indicates that social or daily drinking may be more harmful to brain health than what is now believed by the general public.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Neuroscience (Anderson et al., 2012).