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Exercise May Blunt Heavy Drinking's Effect on Brain
Date:4/17/2013

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- New research raises the possibility that exercise may protect the brains of heavy drinkers from the damage of alcohol.

The research is preliminary, however, and has limitations. The number of heavy drinkers in the study was small, at just nine. Also, it's not possible to know which came first: brain damage from alcohol use or protection to the brain from exercise.

Still, "aerobic exercise could be a beneficial recommendation for individuals with a history of heavy alcohol use," said study author Hollis Karoly, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "This study represents an interesting first step in this line of research. Overall, we hope that this study inspires future research into the relationship between alcohol, exercise and the brain."

Scientists are intrigued by how both alcohol and exercise affect the workings of the brain. Alcohol "can remodel brain chemistry and brain structure. It can lead to neuron cell death, and alcoholism can lead to dementia," said Dr. J.C. Garbutt, a psychiatry professor who studies alcohol use at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Exercise has been shown to lead to enhancement of connections in the brain and may help by lowering blood pressure and changing body metabolic factors such as high fats and high blood sugar, which can negatively affect the brain."

In the new study, the Colorado researchers studied brain scans of 37 men and 23 women, aged 21 to 55, from the Albuquerque, N.M., area who answered questions about alcohol use, smoking and exercise. Thirty-nine were white.

Nine appeared to be what the study defined as problem drinkers.

Those who drank but didn't exercise had lower levels of so-called "white matter" in the brain. However, Karoly said, "we found that among high exercisers, the relationship between alcohol use and white matter damag
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