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Moderate Alcohol Consumption Good or Bad for Your Health?

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Have you felt like you’re receiving mixed messages when it comes to how many glasses of wine to drink it considered safe with dinner or after a long, stressful hard day at work?

In the past, it was recommended to consume two glasses of red to promote cardiovascular and brain health.  Today at Rutgers University, a new study points out that there is a fine line between moderate and binge drinking.  Binge drinking is considered a hazardous behaviour that can diminish brain cells by about 40 percent.

On November 8, the study was posted online and will be scheduled for publication in the journal Neuroscience.  According to the lead author Megan Anderson, a graduate student working alongside Professor Tracey J. Shors of Behavioural and Systems Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology, stated that drinking less during the week (known as moderate drinking) and more on the weekends (considered binge drinking) – notably decreases the structural integrity of the adult brain.

“Moderate drinking can become binge drinking without the person realising it,” alleged Anderson.”In the short term there may not be any noticeable motor skills or overall functioning problems, but in the long term this type of behaviour could have an adverse effect on learning and memory.”

Prof. Shors and Anderson worked with postdoctoral researcher Miriam Nokia from Finland at the University of Jyvaskyla to reproduce what moderate to heavy drinking in humans by using rodents that attained a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent.  They found that the production of brain cells was affected negatively. 

The researchers revealed that at this level of intoxication in rats is equivalent to 3-4 drinks for women and 5 for men.  The quantity of nerve cells in the hippocampus of the brain were reduced by almost 40 percent compared to the sober rodents. The hippocampus is where new neurons are produced and is known to be crucial for new learning.

The level 0.08 was not an adequate amount to impair the motor skills of either the male or female rats or thwart them from associative learning in the short-term. But this considerable decline in the number of brain cells over a period of time could have profound effects on the structural plasticity of the adult brain as these new cells communicate with other neurons to control brain health according to Anderson.

“If this area of your brain was affected every day over many months and years, eventually you might not be able to learn how to get somewhere new or to learn something new about your life,” said Anderson. “It’s something that you might not even be aware is occurring.”

According to the NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) 14 drinks a week for men and 7 for women are considered at-risk drinkers. While binge drinking is common among college students, according to the NIAAA, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involved adults age 26 and older.

“This research indicates that social or daily drinking may be more harmful to brain health than what is now believed by the general public,” she said.

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