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Possible effects of moderate alcohol consumption on neurogenesis

Many believe a glass of red wine is beneficial, but new studies suggest even moderate levels of drinking can affect memory. (Image:

The effects of alcohol consumption on our health has been the subject of inquiry by a number of studies over the years. Generally speaking, little clarity has emerged from this data however. It has often been touted that a daily glass of red wine could have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health for example, but even then, it remains unclear if it is indeed the alcohol content in red wine which confers this benefit as opposed to perhaps other factors such as antioxidant levels.

On the other hand, it is much more clear that heavy drinking is detrimental to our health. Not only does it lead to dependence and subsequent withdrawal symptoms from sudden abstinence, but it damages the liver, stomach as well as the brain for example. And in the most serious cases, the damage is irreversible.

I came across an interesting study by Anderson et al that assessed the effects of alcohol consumption at a moderate level, defined by the authors as 3-4 drinks/day but no more than 7-14 drinks/week, on new brain cell formation (neurogenesis) in the hippocampal area of the brain. Though the results may not be fully representative of the effects in humans, as the authors used rat models, I thought it would be interesting nevertheless to discuss their findings.

They found that there was a ~40% decrease in the formation of new neurons in the region in those who consumed moderate levels compared to controls, highlighting the possible implications of such consumption on learning (hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory). Interestingly, the level of alcohol consumption in the study was approximated to mimic the maximum legal driving limit in countries such as the US, a level not considered to significantly impair motor skills.

Thus, it is important to note that moderate levels of drinking may have serious consequences on learning and memory at levels at which most people would consider safe. Consequently, it appears that further inquiry into this ought to take place in order to gain a better understanding of the short and long-term implications of moderate alcohol consumption in humans.

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Many believe a glass of red wine is beneficial, but new studies suggest even moderate levels of drinking can affect memory. (Image:
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