For those of you who enjoy the odd tipple, you may want to look away now. The British Medical Journal conducted a research paper about alcohol consumption and mental health to investigate whether or not moderate alcohol consumption has any impact on brain structure or function. Over the course of 30 years, from 1985 to 2015, 550 men and women took part in the study with the researchers finding it impossible to justify "moderate drinking on the grounds of brain health".
According to the 30-year research alcohol consumption, even when drinking moderate amounts, is associated with increased risk of brain outcomes and a "steeper decline in mental skills". In order to gather the results of their research, the BMJ took some of the following categories into consideration when examining the 550 men and women:
- Social activity— visiting clubs, interactions with family and friends, physical activity and voluntary work
- Smoking, blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases
- Social class determined by occupation
- Prescribed drugs usage and history of major depressive disorder
- Personality traits defined by questionnaire
Following the questionnaire participants would undergo an MRI scan. Unfortunately, the research found that by reducing your weekly units have no long term protection.
A regular Irish unit equates to half a pint, a 100ml glass of wine or a standard 35.5 ml measure of spirits. Those surveyed who consumed more than 24 Irish units a week were the highest at risk and those who drank 11 to 17 units a week were still three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy, a form of brain damage, than those who abstain.
The research concludes that there is a universal agreement that heavy drinking is associated with cognitive impairment. There are studies that report that light to moderate consumption is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause dementia. The report claimed:
While alcohol-related brain damage generally afflicts malnourished drinkers consuming very high levels of alcohol, some degree of potentially reversible cognitive impairment is detectable in most people starting treatment for alcohol dependence.
The HSE is currently reviewing Irish drinking guidelines. Men are currently advised to drink no more than 17 units a week and women 11, figures that in light of the research are now excessive.