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One Major Side Effect Alcohol Has on Your Brain, New Study Says

An Oxford University study reveals there's no such thing as a "low risk" amount of alcohol for brain health.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

If you were excited to hear that having a drink or two may be good for your heart, unfortunately, Oxford University researchers are encouraging you to step away from the corkscrew. That's because their new study has revealed that drinking, even a tiny amount, is really harsh on the health of your brain and nervous system.

With the goal to examine whether there's a threshold for how much alcohol is harmful to the brain, a team of psychiatry and preventive health researchers at Oxford University analyzed previous data from 25,400 participants, of which, only five percent had identified as non-drinkers. The data included participants' age, education, smoking status, blood pressure, exercise habits, memory tests, hospitalization record, self-reported alcohol consumption, and brain size and brain health based on MRI scans.

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The researchers challenged the previously held belief that drinking 14 single units of alcohol per week was "low risk." After running their data against brain scans and other health records, they found that their assertion was supported. Specifically, they report, "Higher volume of alcohol consumption per week was associated with lower grey matter density." Gray matter connects the brain and spine to help facilitate signaling throughout the central nervous system.

They also identified negative associations between alcohol consumption and the integrity of the brain's white matter, which helps to compose the spinal cord.

These trends were demonstrated even for individuals who drank lower amounts of alcohol, as the researchers conclude: "No safe dose of alcohol for the brain was found. Moderate consumption is associated with more widespread adverse effects on the brain than previously recognized… Current 'low risk' drinking guidelines should be revisited to take account of brain effects."

While this was true across the board, they added that individuals "who binge drink or with high blood pressure and BMI may be more susceptible" to these negative brain health effects.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more