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Alcohol and the brain

June 15, 2017

It is not surprising that the British are interested in the long-term effects of alcohol consumption. The lastest study in the BMJ finds that, unlike cardiovascular health, there is a straight dose relationship in the harm long-term alcohol consumption does to the corpus callosum and right hippocampus. The study is not as strong as the one I previously linked, showing cardiovascular benefits to moderate drinking, looking at only 500 people rather than two million, few of whom were heavy drinkers. But it did look at functional changes over a thirty year time period. The graph (left) differentiating deterioration of lexical score by amount of drinking is worrisome. It also raises the puzzle that lexical scores at the baseline were elevated by the amount people drank!

It is quite plausible that both studies have correct conclusions, that moderate drinking has some cardiovascular benefit, while any amount of alcohol more quickly ages certain parts of the brain. That would create confusing results with regard to long-term cognitive function, depending on how studies were designed. On the one hand, alcohol consumption degrades parts of your brain. On the other hand, it might save you from a stroke.

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