Drinks industry rejects alcohol research findings

‘No firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect in the study’

Drinks manufacturers have rejected the findings of a new study that suggests even moderate alcohol consumption may be bad for your brain.

Research published in the medical journal BMJ found alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with increased risk of adverse brain outcomes and a steeper decline in mental skills.

The results suggest Irish drinking limits, which define moderate drinking as under 17 standard drinks a week for men, may be pitched too high.

But the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said the UK research was “far from conclusive” and should be viewed with scepticism. “This is just one more study and even the authors point out that it is observational, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect,” says ABFI director Patricia Callan.

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According to the research published in BMJ medical journal, alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with increased risk of adverse brain outcomes and a steeper decline in mental skills.

Researchers found higher alcohol consumption was associated with increased risk of hippocampal atrophy – a form of brain damage that affects memory and spatial navigation.

Those consuming over 24 Irish units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers, but even those consuming moderately – 11-17 units a week – were three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy than abstainers.

The more people drank the bigger the decline in their mental functioning and their language fluency, though word recall was unaffected.

Current Irish advice is that men should have no more than 17 standard drinks (about half a pint or a small glass of wine) a week, and women fewer than 11, to be considered “low risk”. The HSE is currently revising Irish drinking guidelines.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times