Most people are aware that alcoholism and binge drinking can kill brain cells, but a new study finds even moderate drinking can be a problem. New research from Rutgers University shows that what moderate drinking and binge drinking have a very negative effect. Both can reduce the production of adult brain cells by as much as 40 percent.
The study’s lead author, Megan Anderson, said that even those who only over indulged on weekends could significantly reduce the structural integrity of the adult brain.
"Moderate drinking can become binge drinking without the person realizing it," said 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 behavior could have an adverse effect on learning and memory."
In their lab tests, the researchers found that rats exposed to an amount of alcohol equivalent to 3 to 4 drinks for women or 5 drinks for men produced 40 percent fewer nerve cells in their hippo campus when compared to non-drinking rats. This is very troubling as the hippo campus makes new neurons and is necessary for some types of new learning.
The truly alarming thing about these new findings is the fact that damage can occur with relatively few drinks. Most people do not see 3 to 5 drinks as binge drinking. Often, they will not even feel drunk or have a hangover. This is because the real damage occurs slowly over a long period of time. Most people will never realize it is happening until it is too late.
"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, a graduate fellow in the Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology. "It's something that you might not even be aware is occurring."
While more research is needed to fully understand the long term effects of moderate drinking, it is important that people keep better track of their drinking habits and understand the consequences of their actions.
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