A glass of wine a day is enough to damage the brain and could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study by Oxford University suggests.
The research found that even those who drink in line with recommended weekly limits are three times more likely to suffer atrophy to the brain, with a steeper rate of cognitive decline.
The 30-year study tracked 550 civil servants, with brain imaging used to explore links between drinking and brain health. Those drinking between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week – six to nine medium glasses of wine – were three times more likely than teetotallers to suffer hippocampal atrophy.
Such shrinkage – a form of brain damage that affects memory and spatial navigation – can precede symptoms of dementia.
Participants who drank less, between seven and 14 units (three to six glasses weekly), had twice the risk of those who never drank alcohol, the research in the ‘British Medical Journal’ found. Even those drinking less than seven units of alcohol a week had an increased risk of damage.
Alcohol intake was also linked to a faster decline in language fluency – how many words beginning with a specific letter can be generated in one minute – and with poorer white matter integrity, required for efficient cognitive functioning. Greatest risks were among the heaviest drinkers. Those consuming more than 30 units of alcohol saw an almost six-fold rise in their risk.
Researchers used data on weekly alcohol intake and cognitive performance measured repeatedly between 1985 and 2015 for 550 men and women.