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Dementia warning: The drink can cause the brain to ‘shrink’ – ‘even in small amounts’

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Dementia currently affects 850,000 people in the UK, but the number is set to grow sharply in the next decade. Recognising the warning signs, however, can prolong the quality of life of patients. Preventive measures also exist, but not all cases of dementia are avoidable. According to a new study, one drink could fuel cognitive deterioration by shrinking the brain – when consumed even in moderate amounts.

When it comes to staving off cognitive decline, there is substantial evidence that brain size matters.

Hypotheses have suggested a large brain is associated with a heightened ability to tolerate pathological damage.

This theory has been used to explain why many patients with Alzheimer’s disease display good cognitive skills before death.

As the brain shrinks, individuals can expect changes in their mental functions.

READ MORE: Dementia breakthrough: The toilet sign that may precede brain decline by ‘seven years’

Some of the first signs of decline may include memory loss, which is a key symptom of dementia.

The health body Alzheimer’s explains that “the most common types of dementia each start with shrinkage of brain tissue that may be restricted to certain parts of the brain”.

A new study has shown that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption was linked to a reduction in brain volume.

The analysis, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, drew on data from more than 36,000 adults.

What’s more, the association grew strong at higher doses of alcohol, according to researchers.

The corresponding author of the study, Gideon Nave, said: “The fact that we have such a large sample size allows us to find subtle patterns, even between drinking the equivalent of half a beer and one beer a day.”

The findings, reported in the journal Nature Communications, present a strong case of abstaining from alcohol consumption.

But a large number of other studies have investigated the relationship between alcohol and brain health, and results haven’t been consistent.

It has previously been established that consuming high volumes of alcohol could shrink the brain, but smaller doses haven’t had the same impact.

In fact, some studies have even suggested that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol could protect against the disease.

Early research, published in the journal Age and Ageing, showed that people who drink two to three drinks a day decreased their risk of dementia by as much as 60 percent.

The findings were then echoed in a recent meta-analysis of observational studies, which suggested abstinence and heavy drinking were associated with a higher risk of the disease, while moderate drinking protected against it.

But Professor Nave pointed out that earlier investigations have lacked large datasets, whereas the current study was able to draw on brain MRIs from more than 36,000 adults in the Biobank.

This allowed researchers to calculate white and grey matter volume in different regions of the brain.

Henry Kranzler, who directs the Penn Centre for Studies of Addiction, said: “These findings contrast with the scientific and governmental guidelines on safe drinking limits.”

Current NHS guidelines state that men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

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