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The Worst Alcohol Habit Aging Your Brain Faster, New Study Says

There’s one particular drinking habit that can take a serious toll on your cognitive health.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

While there are foods that age your brain faster, there are also drinking habits that have the same kind of negative impact on your brain. Frankly, there happens to be one particular drinking habit that can take a serious toll on your cognitive health.

A large study by the University of Pennsylvania published recently in the Nature Communications journal took a look at results from over 36,000 adults and found that when 50-year-old participants went from drinking half a serving of alcohol every day to drinking a full pint of beer or glass of wine, it was like aging their brain two years.

Beyond that, increasing the amount of alcohol consumed each day from a full serving to two and a half bumped up the aging effects again to three and a half years.

woman pouring glass of wine

"This study is groundbreaking because it goes against all of the current recommendations for a 'healthy' amount of alcohol," Danielle McAvoy, MSPH, RD, a registered dietitian with Strong Home Gym and medical reviewer for the Recovery Village tells Eat This, Not That!. McAvoy also notes that "this study was able to find associations we've never seen before because it had such a huge sample size, which provided an unprecedented amount of data to analyze."

Beyond that, McAvoy breaks down how alcohol affects the brain and addresses the study's findings, saying, "Alcohol alters the structure of the cells in the brain, which reduces their capacity to function. Over time as a person drinks alcohol, the amount of healthy, functioning brain cells dwindle. Brain function declines naturally as we age, but the study showed that alcohol causes this to happen at an accelerated rate."

Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD is a senior dietitian at UCLA medical center, also points out that she was "surprised" by the low-level of alcohol associated with decreased brain matter volume in this study, which was apparently caused by the fact that alcohol "seems to lower the volume of white and gray matter in the brain and be associated with brain atrophy—loss of brain function."

It seems like cutting back on alcohol—or, at least, not increasing how much you drink—might be a good idea if you want to keep your mind in tip-top shape for as long as possible.

To find out more about habits that can affect your brain as you get older, be sure to read This One Habit Can Help Fight Your Brain's Aging, New Study Says.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée