Even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may do lasting damage to the brain, new research has suggested.
While the link between heavy drinking and dementia is well-known, the latest study indicates that those who drink less could still be doing themselves harm.
Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford, said that the findings could transform the view of the relationship between alcohol and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
The 30-year research involved 550 men and women and showed that those who drunk more were often found to have a shrunken hippocampus – the seahorse-shaped region of the brain which is linked to memory.
While around a third of those who didn’t drink were found to have this shrinkage, the proportion rose to 65 per cent among those who drank between 14 and 21 units a week and 77 per cent for those who had in excess of 30 units.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that the new findings did not mean that people needed to worry about whether to abstain altogether, but it was important that they took the recommended guidelines into account.
Last year, the Department of Health introduced the new recommendations in the UK, which advised that both men and women consumed no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This is the equivalent of around six pints of beer or seven 175ml glasses of wine.
Dr Brown said: “Although this research gives useful insight into the long-term effects that drinking alcohol may have on the brain, it does not show that moderate alcohol intake causes cognitive decline.
“However, the findings do contradict a common belief that a glass of red wine or champagne a day can protect against damage to the brain.”