"Everything in moderation" is a good rule of thumb, right? (After all, balance might be the most important part of your health and fitness routine.) Cupcakes, burgers, margaritas? All A-OK in moderation.
Except the latest research shows that the effects of alcohol—even in moderation—might be bad news for your brain. Moderate alcohol consumption was tied to three times the risk of tissue degeneration in the hippocampus (a part of your brain that's important for spatial orientation and memory) versus non-drinkers, according to a new study published in the BMJ. This risk remained even after accounting for other associated risk factors such as sex, age, years of education, socioeconomic status, social and physical activity, medical history, smoking status, and stroke risk.
We are *all* for the occasional girls' night in with wine, healthy-ish happy hour cocktail, or post-race beer—so this news is kinda, well, a total buzz-kill. (To make matters worse, all that binge drinking you did under age 25 was actually pretty freakin' bad for you too.)
In this study, the researchers looked at 550 individuals from the Whitehall II study (a longitudinal health study conducted by the University College London) and analyzed 30 years' worth of data collected between 1985 and 2015. The data included participants' weekly alcohol consumption, measures of brain function and mental performance, and MRI brain scans. They found that increased alcohol consumption is linked to increased deterioration in white matter (key for central nervous system processing and communication) and a decline in language fluency (tested by asking people to list as many words starting with a particular letter as they can within one minute).
You probably already knew that heavy drinking is bad news for your brain—but even if you're not boozing like in your college days, you're still at risk. The researchers considered "moderate" drinking to be consuming 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week—equal to about five to nine 175ml glasses of wine, or six to nine pints of light beer, or six to 10 shots (about 45ml) of 40 percent ABV liquor. That may sound like a lot, but you may consume that much over the course of a week without realizing it. About 20 percent of Americans have at least 15 drinks a week, while the top 10 percent of American drinkers consume a whopping 74 alcoholic drinks per week, according to a report by The Washington Post. (You need to know these signs you're drinking too much alcohol.)
Think you're off the hook for sticking to one drink a night? Not so much. The study found that even those who consumed fewer than seven units (about three glasses of wine or three pints of light beer) per week still showed the same risk for hippocampal atrophy as moderate drinkers. Hey, we warned you this would be a buzzkill.