Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

A new study links moderate drinking to brain changes

We are all subject to changes in our bodies associated with aging, but a new study indicates that moderate drinking may contribute to brain changes that include memory loss.

Could the results of this new research spell additional trouble for people who drink and drive?

About the study

Findings in a study published in BMJ, a medical journal, in 2017 indicate that moderate drinkers are more at risk for developing brain changes than those who are light drinkers or who abstain from drinking alcohol altogether. Previous studies have raised the possibility that moderate drinking might help to keep the brain fit, but the new study throws cold water on this idea.

Test results

Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted this study. The participants, 527 civil servants, signed on for the study at the average age of 43. The research team examined three decades of health records, brought the participants in for brain scans and gave them cognitive tests. In one test, they asked volunteers to name as many words as they could that began with a certain letter in 60 seconds. Moderate to heavy drinkers showed poor language fluency results in this kind of test. Heavy drinkers had shrinkage in the hippocampus region of the brain, a sign of approaching dementia. Hippocampus shrinkage was also apparent in moderate drinkers.


In the United States, guidelines concerning alcohol consumption point to one drink per day for women and two for men. Known risks of excessive alcohol consumption include breast cancer, various types of violent behavior and vehicle crashes.

Posing risks

The British study showed that when factors such as age, sex, social class and physical activity were considered, the volunteers who were either abstainers or light to moderate drinkers performed in a similar manner in tests. However, even moderate drinkers were at risk for cognitive decline and eventual memory loss, which could pose considerable danger in terms of drinking and driving.

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