Alcohol and the Brain

It is a supposed scientific fact that alcohol kills brain cells. And presumably, those who would suffer this damage the most would be drinkers in their 70s and 80s who had been at it for decades.

But a new Australian study of 209 elderly men, 178 of whom used alcohol, revealed not a single sign of intellectual impairment or brain atrophy that could be related to the amount of alcohol they regularly consumed.

The findings are described in The British Medical Journal by a sociologist at the Australian National University at Canberra and his collaborators in Sydney.

The men, all of whom had fought in World War II with the Australian army, represented a broad range of alcohol intake: from none to an amount that would warrant the label of alcoholism.

In fact, 40 percent of the men consumed alcohol in amounts deemed hazardous or downright harmful, a much higher percentage than has been found among the Australian population as a whole.

Nine years after their usual alcohol intake was recorded in 1982, the men submitted to 18 neuropsychological tests that measured a range of intellectual functions, including basic intelligence, memory and the ability to retain verbal and visual information.

The participants also underwent a computerized X-ray scan of their brains.

The researchers found no evidence to link heavy alcohol intake with any form of cognitive decline or with atrophy of the brain regions involved in cognitive functions.

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