Even Drinking in Moderation is Too Much for Our Brains

A 30 year study published in the British Medical Journal this week found an association between alcohol consumption, brain shrinkage in the area responsible for cognitive skills, and diminished “language fluency” ( a measure of memory and thinking skills). Regular, moderate drinkers (4-7 drinks a week) were 3 times more likely to have more brain shrinkage and less language fluency, (i.e. memory and thinking  skills), as compared to non-drinkers. Further, the greater amount of alcohol consumed, the faster the mental decline.

Summary of the study is at: https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_166301.html
Complete journal article is at: http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/357/bmj.j2353.full.pdf

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While the association between alcohol and cognitive decline is not the news here, what is newsworthy is the amount of alcohol found associated with it – amounts within the U.S. guidelines for safe drinking.  Presently, the U.S. 2015-2020 guidelines suggest if alcohol is consumed, it be done so in moderation. Moderation is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women (7 per week) and 2 drinks for men (14 per week). For men, the amount is well above the 4-7 drinks a week found associated with brain shrinkage and cognitive decline in the study.

One drink is defined as the following:

12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

The tricky part is that not all beers, wines or distilled spirits (hard liquors) are created equal. So, while a 5 oz. glass of one wine may be equal to one drink, a 5 oz glass of another might be equivalent to 1.4 drinks. It all has to do with the alcohol content of the beverage and of course,  the amount you pour in your glass!


Use the chart below to help you determine the number of ‘drinks’ you take in each week,

 Alcoholic Drink-Equivalents of Select Beverages

Drink Description


Beer, beer coolers, and malt beverages 


12 fl oz at 4.2% alcoholc


12 fl oz at 5% alcohol (reference beverage)


16 fl oz at 5% alcohol


12 fl oz at 7% alcohol


12 fl oz at 9% alcohol




5 fl oz at 12% alcohol (reference beverage)


9 fl oz at 12% alcohol


5 fl oz at 15% alcohol


5 fl oz at 17% alcohol



Distilled spirits


1.5 fl oz 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)


Mixed drink with more than 1.5 fl oz 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

> 1



Given the findings of this study, if you drink, it may be wise to bring your drinking more in line with the 2016 U.K. guidelines of no more than 5 drinks per week. See the links below for tips on cutting back on alcohol.             

For more information 

Rethinking Drinking
National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse  


Tips on cutting down
UK National Health Service

U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 for alcohol: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-9/


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see www.associatesforhealth.com  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her atjoanna@associatesforhealth.com

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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