A British study showed that drinking about 40 grams of pure ethyl alcohol per week leads to the accumulation of iron in the brain and a decrease in cognitive abilities.
It will not be a discovery that alcohol is harmful to our body. But recent research sheds more light on the influence of alcohol and suggests that in fact the hidden influence of alcohol is much stronger than we thought. According to the results, alcoholic beverages can lead to a variety of effects — from an increased risk of cancer to structural damage to the brain.
How Alcohol Makes Us Dumber
In the new work, scientists focused on the impact of alcohol consumption on people’s cognitive abilities. The hypothesis behind the new work arose from studies linking high levels of iron in the brain with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Abnormal iron accumulations in the brain were found in the brains of heavy drinkers, so in this study, the authors decided to find out if the same thing happens in the brains of moderate drinkers.
As part of their work, the scientists analyzed data from more than 20,000 subjects registered in the British Biobank. It turned out that self-assessment of alcohol consumption correlates with the level of iron in the brain, measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Elevated levels of iron in the brain, especially in the basal ganglia, were associated with the consumption of more than seven units of alcohol per week. One unit of alcohol is defined as 10 milliliters of pure alcohol. For example, a large glass of wine can contain from two to three units of alcohol, while a regular can of beer can contain from 1.5 to two units of alcohol.
The study also analyzed cognitive indicators, and it turned out that drinking more than 4 units of alcohol is associated with “slowing down executive function, decreased intelligence and slower reaction time.” All this can cause the accumulation of high levels of iron in the basal ganglia. Scientists attribute this effect on the accumulation of iron to the fact that alcohol blocks the production of a hormone that regulates iron homeostasis.