Too Much Booze Can Shave 6 Years off Men's Memory

Heavy drinking "shifts the [aging] slope,” says one expert.

ByABC News
January 15, 2014, 12:41 PM

Jan. 15, 2013— -- Don’t like hazy memories and the hangover from a boozy night out? If you’re a man, you might want to cut down on the cocktails before it’s too late.

A new study published in the Neurology journal Wednesday found that men who drank more than the recommended amount of daily alcohol experienced a significant decline in overall cognitive ability and could end up with the memory of someone as much as a half a decade older.

Researchers from the U.K.’s University College London studied the drinking habits of 5,054 men between the ages of 44 and 69, and measured their cognitive ability in four tests that assessed their short-term memory, problem solving skills and reasoning ability, among other things.

The study found that men who drank at least 36 grams of alcohol or more (about two and a half 13-ounce beers) had a faster decline in cognitive ability akin to someone 1.5 to 5.7 years older.

Dr. Alan Lerner, the director of the Brain Health and Memory Center at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, pointed out that although it's well-known that people’s cognitive function deteriorates as they age, the study showed how alcohol could speed up that process.

“It shifts the [aging] slope,” said Lerner of excessive drinking. “It’s an accelerated aging process.”

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Dr. Michael Charness, a professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School and chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, said it’s important to note that the danger zone of alcohol consumption in the study was in line with the current recommendations by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which cautions no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.

“There is a trajectory of declining memory and executive function as we age. This is bending the curve earlier to an earlier decline in cognitive function,” said Charness. “If people drink in an excess of [recommended] numbers, there’s a variety of effects.”

Charness said in addition to cognitive degeneration, excessive drinking could worsen cardiovascular health.

Charness, however, said studies have found that the brain can recover once a person stops drinking.

“In the first six to eight weeks, brain shrinkage can partially reverse,” said Charness. “Some of the effects that alcohol has on brain are reversible.”

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