Brains age faster even with moderate drinking, study finds

Cognitive functions significantly reduced by excessive alcohol consumption

Heavy drinking is classified by the University College, London researchers, who began their work in 1997, as more than four units of alcohol a day – a third of a pint is defined as a single unit.

Heavy drinking is classified by the University College, London researchers, who began their work in 1997, as more than four units of alcohol a day – a third of a pint is defined as a single unit.

 



The brains of middle-aged men age up to six years faster if they drink even less than two pints of alcohol a day, a major 10-year study of 5,000 British civil servants has shown.

The study, published in Neurology, found that cognitive functions – memory, problem-solving, language and attention span – were all significantly reduced by excessive alcohol consumption.

Heavy drinking is classified by the University College, London researchers, who began their work in 1997, as more than 4½ units of alcohol a day – a third of a pint is defined as a single unit.

“We found that the decline in memory was accelerated by six years in heavy male drinkers; this means that for example a man aged 55 years drinking more than 36g of alcohol per day would have a decline in memory comparable to a man aged 61 years old,” said UCL’s Severine Sabia.


Tests by UCL team
More than 5,000 men and more than 2,000 women were first tested by the UCL team between 1997 and 1999 and then between 2002 and 2004 and 2007 and 2009.

Past studies have shown that people who drink wine are at a lower risk of dementia, but this time researchers found “an association” between spirits consumption and cognitive decline in men “whereas no clear association was found with other alcoholic beverages”.

There were “no differences in memory and cognitive function among alcohol abstainers, [or] quitters”, or those who were classified as light or moderate alcohol drinkers, but those who drank more than 4.5 units a day saw a “faster decline in all cognitive functions”.

However, the evidence is far less conclusive for women. Researchers found “only weak evidence” that those who drink heavily suffer a similar decline. Those who abstained deteriorated quickest – but the numbers involved are small, so must be interpreted cautiously

Last night, the Alzheimer’s Society in Britain said: “This shows that drinking more than 4½ units of alcohol a day makes your brain age faster, which increases your risk of developing dementia.”