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Six-Year Habit=Lasting Brain Damage

If having a few too many has become a regular habit, the brain-health hangover may last a lifetime. St. Louis University researchers published an animal study suggesting several years of heavy drinking could permanently impair memory–and slow down learning ability as well.

Researchers fed two groups of rodents an alcoholic solution for either four or eight weeks — the human equivalent of a daily bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer for either three or six years. Both groups were tested for long-term memory and learning ability after being taken “off the bottle” for three weeks. Significant long-term memory impairment occurred in the 8-week rats but not in the 4-week rats. What’s more, this impairment did not improve even when the rats were retested nine weeks later.

Apparently bathing the brain in alcohol actually causes neurochemical changes that persist over time. In other words, the damage is done. While the study authors recognize the inherent flaws in extrapolating this research to humans, they believe these findings bolster other research pointing to chronic alcohol consumption’s permanent effects. Other alcohol health consequences include higher stroke risk and bigger waistlines. Heavy drinking poses particular threats to women, such as increased risk of breast cancer, as well as a faster progression of dependence and brain-volume reductions, compared to males.

Seniors need to take special care to moderate drinking, as advancing years diminish the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol (which may also interfere with some medications).

Published December 1, 2006


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