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Drinking Alcohol Associated with Smaller Brain Volume

There's been a lot of talk about red wine in the past few years. More doctors are saying drinking red wine in moderation – usually a glass a day – is good for your heart. But what about your brain? VOA's Rose Hoban reports.

Neurologist Carol Ann Paul was curious to know the answer to that question. While she was doing research at the Boston University School of Public Health, she looked at data from the Framingham study – a large, long-term study that is based in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Researchers have been collecting information about the residents of Framingham for several decades.

One of the things they did was give this normal population MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging studies), Paul says. They had 1,839 MRIs from normal subjects, which they used to measure brain volumes.

Participants in the Framingham study have filled out detailed questionnaires about their habits, activities and diet. They have answered many questions about their alcohol consumption. Paul took that data and assigned people into one of five groups: abstainers; people who drank no alcohol; former drinkers; low, moderate and high drinkers.

Low is classified as one to seven drinks per week, about one each day. Moderate is eight to 14 drinks, and high is more than 14, Paul explains.

Paul took data about red wine consumption from these questionnaires and matched it with the results of those brain scans. She found that the more people drank, the more quickly their brains shrank with age.

Normal aging is .2 percent per year or 2 percent per decade, she says. The changes between normal and the abstainers, abstainers and all of the different categories was .25 percent per group.

Paul says that for each extra regular drink per day, it's equivalent to one to two years of normal aging.

Paul says the next question she wants to explore is whether people whose brains shrink faster have faster cognitive decline. She says she'll be working on that in the upcoming year. In the meantime, she says she'll probably continue to enjoy red wine in moderation.

Her research was published in the Archives of Neurology.