Enjoying a few glasses of wine or other alcoholic drinks each day may help to protect against heart disease but it may be a different story for your brain. A recent study published in the Archives of Neurology showed that people who drink alcohol develop smaller brain volumes and it appeared that the more alcohol a person consumes, the smaller their brain size. The association was found to be more pronounced in women as opposed to men although both sexes showed declines in brain size.
Several prior studies on alcohol use and brain size have reached similar conclusions. The researchers had originally begun looking at brain size in relation to alcohol consumption because they believed that alcohol might protect the brain against stroke similar to the effect it has on the cardiovascular system. Although some studies did show a reduced risk of stroke, others failed to confirm this, but all of them appeared to show an association between smaller brain volumes and alcohol use.
What consequences might this smaller brain volume have on an individual who drinks alcohol? Atrophy of brain tissue and declines in brain volume could impair the ability of a person to learn as well as affect motor function. This is of concern since brain volume naturally decreases with age at a rate of almost two percent every ten years. The additional loss of volume due to alcohol consumption could result in premature problems with thinking and reasoning independent of the short term effects of the alcohol.
This can present a dilemma if you’ve been trying to drink red wine daily for the polyphenols and the heart protective benefits. There’s no doubt that red wine has some positive health properties such as cardioprotection and the ability to boost levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. Should you give you give up red wine because of the risk ofdeveloping alcohol related brain changes?
Although larger scale trials are needed to definitely prove the association between alcohol use and smaller brain volume, there does appear to be some correlation. Because red wine has some many other positive health properties and the risk of brain atrophy is still not completely proven, it may be best to use red wine in small quantities. One glass or, at most, two glasses per day should be enough to give you some cardiac benefits without consuming quantities that might cause significant brain atrophy. Keep in mind that drinking more than a glass of alcohol per day has been associated with an increased breast cancer risk in women so there’s more than one reason to limit your alcohol consumption if you’re female.
When it comes to smaller brain volume and alcohol use, everything in moderation may be the key.