Washington: The more you drink, the more your brain shrinks, scientists have said. Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can be good for heart health.
Researchers led by Carol Ann Paul of Wellesley College in Massachusetts wanted to see if it also protected against the inevitable loss of brain volume that people experience as they age. It did not.
In fact, lifelong teetotalers had the least brain-volume loss, with former drinkers, moderate current drinkers and heavy current drinkers experiencing progressively more brain shrinkage, they wrote in the journal Archives of Neurology.
And the trend was more pronounced in women than in men. This could be due to women's greater sensitivity to alcohol's effects and to their smaller size on average than men, the researchers said.
''It's been known that people who drink a lot have a decline in brain volume. What I was looking for was a protective effect in people who drink one to seven glasses a week,'' Paul said in a telephone interview on Monday.
''My expectation is that it would (be protective). And it didn't turn out that way,'' added Paul, who conducted the study while at the Boston University School of Public Health.
The findings were based on data on 1,839 American adults aged 33 to 88 who reported their alcohol consumption and had magnetic resonance imaging scans to show brain volume. They were part of a large, ongoing health study in Massachusetts.
Compared to people who abstained from drinking, those who drank the most, defined as more than 14 drinks per week, had a brain that was on average 1 percent smaller, the researchers found. Overall, brain volume declines with age at an estimated rate of about 2 per cent per decade, the researchers said.
Brain atrophy has been linked to impaired cognition and motor functions. Moderate drinking has been shown in many studies to have heart benefits, but heavy drinking can cause serious harm to overall health. It can damage the liver, the brain and other organs and can raise the risk of certain cancers.