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Alcohol shrinks brain

"Heavy alcohol consumption might exaggerate brain shrinkage in social drinkers. Chronic heavy alcohol consumption should be avoided," according to Dr. Motoo Kubota and colleagues from Chiba University in Japan report in the July issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Alcohol, among the various forms insults both physically and mentally, now turns out to potentially shrink the brain according to the studies.

Heavy alcohol consumption leads to the shrinkage of the frontal lobe, which is the center for emotions, planning and other higher forms behaviour. This is particularly noted in the elderly. The investigators measured the frontal lobe volume in about 1400 individuals using MRI scan and found that the frontal lobe had shrunk in less than 8% of individuals between 30 and 40 years old, compared with nearly 16% of those in their 40s and 38% of those in their 50s. About 61% of people in their 60s had shrunken frontal lobes.

Older individuals were nearly three times more likely to show brain shrinkage in this region than individuals in their 30s, Dr.Kubota said.

The good news is that alcoholic brain damage is partly reversible. Individuals who give up the bottle can recover brain volume and boost blood flow.

The researchers estimate that aging accounts for about 30% of brain shrinkage and heavy alcohol consumption for about 10%.

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