Brain Health and Alcohol

As the risk for Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise, most adults want to do whatever they can to prevent it. In a recent edition of the newsletter, we touched on the benefits of exercise. What about other lifestyle habits?

A recent study that evaluated casual, moderate alcohol intake and its link to premature brain aging was completed using the Brain-Age Regression Analysis and Computational Utility software. The software, known as BARACUS, uses measures of the brain's cortical thickness, cortical surface area, and subcortical volumes found from structural MRI to predict brain age in a sample of adults.

This study featured 240 subjects with an average age of 35 (+/-10.7) years. Of these subjects, 49% were African American and 48% were male. Advanced brain aging was considered the difference between predicted and biological age, known as the “brain age gap.”

A significant link between prior 90-day alcohol intake and brain age gap was indicated through statistical analysis. The results were repeated in a second independent subject group of similar sample size, age, and other demographics. 

Results showed that brain age gap occurred even in the absence of smoking (a risk factor for dementia).  Brain age gap was observed by 5 days per drink consumed over a 3-month time frame. This equates to a little less than 1 drink per day over 90 days. The results indicate that minimal alcohol intake is associated with untimely brain aging. More research is necessary to show cause and effect.

It may be helpful to take a look at the ABV (alcohol by volume) of various drinks. Often, people are consuming more alcohol than they think. A 12-oz canned hard seltzer may be 1.6 drinks, one 12-oz beer may be 2 drinks, and a cocktail with 3 oz of distilled spirits (like gin) counts as 2 drinks.

A new consumer-friendly calculator at can help people figure out how many drinks they're actually consuming, along with what’s in their recipes.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD



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