Most headlines about moderate alcohol consumption are happy ones—a drink or two a day is good for your heart, your soul, and may even extend your lifespan! But today I'm bearing bad news about the effects of alcohol on the brain. A new study finds that regularly consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause a decrease in brain plasticity, or the brain's ability to generate new cells.
Lab rats who were given alcohol and achieved a level of intoxication consistent with what we consider "moderate" showed negative impacts on their brains. In these rats the number of new cells produced by the hippocampus was remarkably reduced, and those cells are the ones thought to help the brain adapt to experience. The study concludes, "even moderate consumption of alcohol for a relatively short period of time can have profound effects on structural plasticity in the adult brain."
But don't get too worked up about this study—it's on rats, after all, not people, and other studies have found that people who drink moderately have lower rates of Alzheimer'sand other types of dementia. So if you enjoy moderate alcohol consumption (and can stay truly moderate with it) don't let this study make you feel bad about throwing a few back.
And whether you drink or not, you can help keep your brain young and healthy by exercising regularly. A different study just done at the University of Montreal found that midlife adults who underwent a program of regular high-intensity interval training performed better on cognitive tests than they had before they began the exercise regimen.
More about brain health and the effects of alcohol on the brain: