Drinking, Thinking, and Shrinking

Scientists have long known that heavy drinking killed brain cells and caused long-term brain shrinkage. However, they thought moderate drinking would not cause brain shrinkage. A team of scientists at John Hopkins tested that theory.

In the study, a team led by Jingzhong Ding used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of almost 2,000 volunteers aged 55 and older, and asked them about their drinking habits.

None of the participants was a heavy drinker, and they were divided into teetotallers, former drinkers, occasional drinkers (less than one drink a week), low drinkers (one to six drinks) and moderate drinkers (seven to 14 drinks).

As the volunteers’ alcohol intake rose, the scans showed an increasing volume in the ventricular and sulcal regions of the brain — “empty” areas that contain only cerebrospinal fluid and no nervous tissue.

An increase in the size of these areas is a sign of brain atrophy or shrinkage, which is in turn associated with a loss of cognitive function and declining motor skills.

In other words, the more you drink, the more your brain shrinks. And even a little bit of drinking causes some shrinking.

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