She wanders around her own house, turning on and off light switches, wondering when she will get to go home. She has begun to talk to the TV rather than watch it, as it is now difficult for her to tell the difference between people on-screen and off. These are snippets of an ALYKA staff member’s experience caring for a parent with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The unsettling confusion, the death of her motor skills, and the loss of her personality have each been its own small tragedy. Sadly, it is often not until we know someone experiencing such decline that we consider strategies for keeping our brains healthy.
It is common to talk about healthy choices for the hearts or lungs, but what about healthy brain tissue? Are there ways to make healthy brain choices?
One recent study took a hard look at how alcohol affects the brain. The researchers took images of over 30,000 people’s brains and measured changes based on alcohol consumption. Specifically, they studied volume changes in the white matter and gray matter. In the brain, the “gray matter” is the brain tissue full of neurons. It controls many brain functions such as: muscle control, seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control, etc. White matter acts as the messaging highway in the brain. Both serve important roles in daily life and overall quality of life. When measuring gray and white matter, researchers observed a negative relationship even with one-to-two alcohol units a day. The volume of both gray and white matter decreased in every area of the brain in both men and women who had consumed alcohol.
Although this study specifically focuses on a large group of people living in the UK, it’s worth considering your own alcohol intake, especially for those concerned with brain health. Here’s the bigger picture: Over 85% of Americans report consuming alcohol in their lifetime. According to the CDC, alcohol consumption is associated with a wide variety of short term and long term health risks. In other words, alcohol intake at any level has serious risks involved, including negative effects on the brain. There are many, many health fads that people jump on that have significantly less research backing. For example, using aluminum-free deodorant or avoiding red-dye in food may be healthy choices, but they hold significantly less risk than drinking alcohol. With the social prominence of alcoholic beverages, the risks of drinking alcohol are often normalized in the same way the risks of driving a car are normalized or forgotten. But it may be time to take a hard look at your alcohol intake.
Want to know more about healthy consumption, lifestyle change, or healthy habits? Alcohol intake is only one topic of many we highlight in our weekly newsletter. Take a look at our blog for more information on alcohol and health topics, or sign up for our newsletter below.