Proof That Alcohol Ages the Brain

By Allison McCabe 01/22/14

New research shows that heavy alcohol use can lead to declining cognitive function, particularly in men.

Just say no to memory decline. Shutterstock

Men might want to cut down on the drinking if they want to maintain a sharp memory, warns ABC News. Last Wednesday, a report in the journal Neurology found that men who drink larger than recommended amounts of alcohol may find that their memories are five years older than the rest of their bodies.

Based on a University College London study which measured the cognitive ability of 5,054 subjects between 44 and 69, men who consume at least 36 grams of alcohol or more on a daily basis experience a more rapid decline in cognitive ability. “It shifts the [aging] slope,” said Dr. Alan Lerner, director of Brain Health and Memory Center at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Although it's common knowledge that cognitive ability declines as people age, there's now proof that alcohol creates “an accelerated aging process,” according to Lerner.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men drink no more than two drinks a day, and just one drink a day for women. The new study shows that cognitive decline occurs when men drink in excess of the national recommendations. “There is a trajectory of declining memory and executive function as we age. This is bending the curve to an earlier decline in cognitive function,” says Dr. Michael Charness, a professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School.

The brain can often recover, however, once drinking is stopped, according to Charness: “In the first six to eight weeks, brain shrinkage can partially reverse. Some of the effects that alcohol has on brain are reversible.”

Watch ASAP Science explain how alcohol affects the brain:

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Allison McCabe is the editor in chief of The Fix. She has written for LA Weekly, Village Voice, Junk: a literary fix, Ramshackle Review, Main Street Journal and others. Follow Allison on Twitter.