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Alcohol is Not a Health Food : by Dr. Daniel Amen

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“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

Alcohol is Not a Health Food

CNN recently reported on a new study that confirms what I have seen on SPECT scans for a long time – alcohol is not a health food! Any amount of alcohol can decrease brain size. I like to say when it comes to the brain, size matters. People who drink alcohol — even the moderate amounts that help prevent heart disease — have a smaller brain volume than those who do not, according to a study in the Archives of Neurology.

While a certain amount of brain shrinkage is normal with age, greater amounts in some parts of the brain have been linked to dementia. “Decline in brain volume — estimated at 2 percent per decade — is a natural part of aging,” says Carol Ann Paul, who conducted the study when she was at the Boston University School of Public Health. She had hoped to find that alcohol might protect against such brain shrinkage. “However, we did not find the protective effect,” says Paul, who is now an instructor in the neuroscience program at Wellesley College. “In fact, any level of alcohol consumption resulted in a decline in brain volume.”

In the study, Paul and colleagues looked at 1,839 healthy people with an average age of about 61. The patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and reported how much they tippled. Overall, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume, with abstainers having a higher brain volume than former drinkers, light drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), and heavy drinkers (14 or more drinks per week). Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers than women. But the link between brain volume and alcohol wasn’t as strong in men. For men, only those who were heavy drinkers had a smaller brain volume than those who consumed little or no alcohol.

In women, even moderate drinkers had a smaller brain volume than abstainers or former drinkers. It’s not clear why even modest amounts of alcohol may shrink the brain, although alcohol is “known to dehydrate tissues, and constant dehydration can have negative effects on any sensitive tissue,” says Paul. “We always knew that alcohol at higher dosages results in shrinking of the brain and cognitive deficit,” says Dr. Petros Levounis, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke’s — Roosevelt Hospital Center, who was not involved in the study. “What is new with this article is that it shows brain shrinking at lower doses of alcohol.”

Less is better.

To your brain health,

Daniel

Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association
Dr. Amen’s Blog – Recent Articles
Hold the Video Games
Alcohol Is Not A Health Food
Large Review Finds St. John’s Wort As Effective As Standard Antidepressants
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KCTS 9 Studios,  Seattle, WA  More…

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Seattle Act Theatre,  Seattle, WA  More…

16th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine & Regenerative Biomedical Technologies
December 11, 2008  – December 14, 2008
Venetian Hotel,  Las Vegas, Nevada  More…

The Learning Brain Expo  
January 16, 2009  – January 19, 2009
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(IITAP) International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals Symposium  
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California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists  
April 30, 2009  – May 03, 2009
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ADD Resources November Conference
Date: November 1, 2008
Keynote speaker: William Dodson, MD
Location: Smith Hall – University of Washington – Seattle Campus
Continuing Education Credits: available for Psychologists, Social Workers, and Licensed Practicing Counselors
 
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Written by Derrick Walker

October 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm

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