Linked to Mixed Effects on Brain
WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) Sept 10 - Moderate alcohol consumption
evokes complex responses in the brain, resulting in fewer white matter
abnormalities but a higher prevalence of brain atrophy, according to a
report in the September edition of Stroke.
White matter infarcts and brain atrophy are associated with poorer
neurological and cognitive function, as well as greater declines in
cognitive function over time, the authors explain. Whether moderate
alcohol consumption by elderly individuals brings subclinical MRI findings
had not been reported before now.
Dr. Kenneth Mukamal from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston
and colleagues studied the relationship between alcohol consumption and
MRI findings in 3376 adults aged 65 years and older who participated in
the Cardiovascular Health Study.
An inverse relationship emerged between alcohol consumption and white
matter infarcts, the authors report, with heavier drinkers (at least 15
drinks a week) facing only 57% of the white matter infarct risk faced by
In contrast, alcohol consumption and brain atrophy were linearly
related. According to the report, the heaviest drinkers showed brain
atrophy scores approximately 0.2 grades higher than those shown by
These associations changed little when the groups were stratified by
gender, race, HDL level, apoE4 allele status, and type of beverage (beer,
wine, or liquor) consumed, the researchers note.
"Alcohol consumption is consistently associated with lower risk of
cardiovascular disease, but studies on alcohol use and cerebrovascular
disease have been far more mixed," Dr. Mukamal told Reuters Health.
"Our findings also show some of this variability — alcohol has
substantially different 'dose-response' curves for different types of
"I think the final story on alcohol use and brain function hasn't
been told yet," Dr. Mukamal said. "Based on studies like ours,
as well as the heterogeneity in studies of alcohol use and stroke, how
alcohol consumption affects brain structure, function, and blood flow
appears to be complex and dependent on a variety of clinical
"This highlights the importance of making individualized
recommendations about alcohol use," Dr. Mukamal concluded.
"Simple rules about how much alcohol is 'right' to drink, if any,
ignore this complexity."
In light of other published reports, notes Dr. Daniel Bereczki from
University of Debrecen, Hungary in a related commentary, "it would be
worth identifying study participants with really heavy alcohol consumption
and reanalyzing the data including this group, after which the implicit
suggestion of the paper might (or might not!) change."