Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Moderate drinking risky for brain cells

Published On: Thu, Oct 25th, 2012 | Addiction | By IANS

A couple of glasses of wine daily may be a good way to promote cardiovascular and brain health, but it also comes with a hidden risk – lowering brain cell production by 40 percent, new research says.

Megan Anderson, a graduate student working with Tracey J. Shors, professor of behavioural and systems neuroscience at the Rutgers University, reported that moderate to binge drinking – drinking less during the week and more on the weekends – damages the structural integrity of the adult brain.

“Moderate drinking can become binge drinking without the person realizing it,” said Anderson.

In the short term there may not be any noticeable motor skills or overall functioning problems, but in the long term this type of behaviour could have an adverse effect on learning and memory, the journal Neuroscience reported.

Tracey Shors and Anderson worked with postdoctoral fellow Miriam Nokia from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland to model moderate to heavy drinking in humans using rodents that reached a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent – the legal driving limit in the US and many other countries – and found that brain cell production was affected negatively, according to a Rutgers statement.

Researchers discovered that at this level of intoxication in rats – comparable to about 3-4 drinks for women and five drinks for men – the number of nerve cells in the hippocampus of the brain were reduced by nearly 40 percent compared to those in the abstinent group of rodents.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain where the new neurons are made and is also known to be necessary for some types of new learning.

“If this area of your brain was affected every day over many months and years, eventually you might not be able to learn how to get somewhere new or to learn something new about your life,” said Anderson.

“It’s something that you might not even be aware is occurring.”

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men who drink 14 drinks a week and women who drink seven are considered at-risk drinkers.

Although college students commonly binge drink, according to the institute, 70 percent
of binge drinking episodes involved adults age 26 and older.

“This research indicates that social or daily drinking may be more harmful to brain health than what is now believed by the general public,” Anderson said.

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