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Does Alcohol Really Hurt Your Brain? Here’s The Truth

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Do you enjoy a drink or two every now and then?

Well, most people do. 

But in a recent observational study, researchers from the University of Oxford have found a tentative reason for why you may want to give ‘quitting the bottle altogether’ another round of contemplation. 

Though the study hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, researchers discovered that drinking has a negative effect on the ‘grey matter’ in the brain. 

This ‘grey matter’ is important stuff.

But exactly how big of a deal is this? Is it really that serious? Or, is this just another one of those ‘small number risks’ that doesn’t really affect us in real life?

In other words, are you safe to continue drinking, or is this truly a big deal?

Here’s what you need to know. 

The Basics: Drinking Alcohol Reduces Grey Matter In The Brain

Grey matter is the stuff in our brains that helps us process information. Structures within it help to process signals coming in from sensory organs and other areas. 

It’s important. And according to the above-mentioned study, researchers have discovered that the more people drink, the less grey matter they end up with. 

Now, alcohol isn’t the only thing that contributes to the loss of grey matter. The aging process contributes to it, and people who suffer from dementia suffer from more severe brain loss than people who age without suffering from dementia. 

But alcohol falls into a category of ‘modifiable risk factors,’ which are basically risk factors that you can control (unlike aging or dementia). 

How Badly Does Alcohol Affect The Brain?

First off, it’s important to underscore the fact that alcohol makes a surprisingly small contribution to grey matter reduction. 

Here’s a quote from the lead author of the study, Anya Topiwala, who’s a senior clinical researcher at Oxford. 

“Whilst alcohol only made a small contribution to this (0.8%), it was a greater contribution than other ‘modifiable’ risk factors.”

It’s also important to point out that different types of alcohol seemed to have the same effect. In other words, it didn’t seem to matter if your beverage of choice was wine, beer, spirits, etc. None were really ‘better’ than the others in terms of risk reduction. 

Also, it didn’t seem like there was any ‘safe’ level of drinking that didn’t affect grey matter reduction. 

According to the study, if you drink, you shrink your grey matter and permanently damage your brain. That’s just how it is. 

Should Everyone Stop Drinking?

This is a complicated question, mostly because drinking moderate levels of alcohol can actually provide a few health benefits

Among other things, drinking can:

  • Reduce heart disease risk
  • Possibly reduce your risk of certain types of stroke
  • Possibly reduce your risk of developing diabetes

It can also obviously be a lot of fun to drink and get tipsy—hence why so many people do it. 

Does this new negative evidence outweigh the potential benefits?

That’s a choice that everyone is going to have to make for themselves, as it really depends on your point of view, and where you are and aren’t willing to take the risk. 

Is drinking alcohol worth the risk to you?

That may be the most important question to ask yourself.

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