Study: Alcohol might cause brain changes

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

In a recent national survey of over 30,000 college students, almost 2 out of 3 college students reported using ANY alcohol in the last 30 days (1).

In 2011, almost 70 million Americans reported binge drinking in the last month ( binge drinking defined by the survey as 5 or more drinks on one occasion) (2).

In some people, alcohol can impact emotional health by altering important brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, anxiety.

A previous post looked at the impact of alcohol on grades (3), and alcohol’s impact on sexual assault (4). A recent study looked at the impact of alcohol on brain health (5).

Who was studied? (5)

  • 550 men and women with mean age 43.0, were followed weekly over a 30 year time period.
  • None of the participants had alcohol dependence at the beginning of the study.

What was measured? (5)

  • Alcohol intake and cognitive performance were measured on a weekly basis.
  • Multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed at the end of the study (2012-15).

What were the results? (5)

Even after adjusting for various factors:

  • In this study, higher alcohol consumption over 30 years was associated with higher odds of hippocampal atrophy.
  • Even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had 3x higher odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy.
  • In this study, there was NO protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. 
  • Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency (selecting and retrieving information based on spelling).

What does this mean? (5)

  • Hippocampus changes are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (6) and depression (7)
  • Alcohol consumption might also impact lexical fluency (selecting and retrieving information based on spelling) (5)
  • Caution is advised even with long term non dependent use of alcohol.

What are some caveats?

  • This is a single, small study of middle age adults in a small region, which limits generalization world wide.
  • Participants could not be randomized.
  • Further study is needed.

Where can I learn more about alcohol?
How much is too much, Strategies for cutting down, quitting can be found here:
http://www.ccs.osu.edu/self-help/alcohol/
http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/default.asp

Take the OSU Free Anonymous Mental health Screen

The amount of alcohol that is considered safe continues to be lowered as we learn more about the impact of alcohol.

Are you regularly drinking alcohol?  How is it impacting your emotional and physical health?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References

  1. American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Fall 2016. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2017.
  2. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50); 2015.
  3. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2014/09/12/does-alcohol-use-impact-your-grades/
  4. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/10/21/study-alcohol-impacts-sexual-assault/
  5. Topiwala Anya, Allan Charlotte L, Valkanova Vyara, Zsoldos Enikő, Filippini Nicola, Sexton Claire et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study 
  6. McKhann GM, Knopman DS, Chertkow H, et al. The diagnosis of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease: recommendations from the National Institute on Aging-Alzheimer’s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease.Alzheimers Dement2011;357:2639. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2011.03.005 pmid:21514250.
  7. Masi, G. & Brovedani, P. CNS Drugs (2011) 25: 913. doi:10.2165/11595900-000000000-00000.  The Hippocampus, Neurotrophic Factors and Depression.