Alcohol: Is It Healthy Or Does It Shrink Your Brain?

A recent study demonstrated some significant adverse effects of drinking on not only your brain size, but also its function. Any Topiwala and colleagues recently published their 30-year study in the British Medical Journal. They not only quantitatively measured the size of subject’s brains with MRI, but also did serial cognitive testing.

What did they find?

Sections of your brain actually get smaller with the more alcohol you ingest. This was especially noticed in the hippocampal area, but also affected the white matter integrity in the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres. Also, there was a faster decline in lexical fluency (measures of language and executive function).

In short:

  • your brain shrinks,
  • the wires that connect both sides get degraded,
  • and your language and higher executive functions decline faster.

The above effects were seen with those who consumed four large beers a week, or five glasses of wine a week.

This is on top of the increased risk of mouth, esophageal, stomach, and liver cancers. Alcohol increases your blood pressure and increases your short- and long-term risks of atrial fibrillation, which is growing in incidence.

“But shouldn’t I drink for my heart’s health?”

As a doctor, I get asked this question all the time. There is a protective effect of moderate alcohol drinking on heart attacks (one glass of wine per day for women, and two per day for men), but doctors never recommend it as therapy due to the potential side effects, not to mention its addictive potential.

If you need any other evidence to give up alcohol how about this: alcohol is chock full of carbs and we all know that we should avoid carbs…

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Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

1 Comment
  1. Good article. Worth mentioning that alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen, just like tobacco and asbestos. Alcohol causes 7 types of cancer in humans according to American Cancer Society. Also American Heart Assn does not recommend wine or other alcohol for potential cardiovascular benefit.

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