“Moderate” alcohol consumption linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Posted: 20 February 2023 | | No comments yet

Following a preclinical study, scientists have discovered that “even modest amounts” of alcohol can cause loss of brain cells.


Researchers have found a link between moderate alcohol consumption and the acceleration of brain atrophy (the loss of brain cells). They have also claimed that modest alcohol consumption increases the number of amyloid plaques – the accumulation of toxic proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.

Although there was already research to suggest that alcohol use disorder is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, the new study, carried out by scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, unearthed results that may concern for casual drinkers.

“These findings suggest alcohol might accelerate the pathological cascade of Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages,” said Shannon Macauley, PhD. Associate Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

To carry out the preclinical study, researchers used a 10-week chronic drinking approach where mice were given the choice to drink water or alcohol. This was done as it “mimics human behaviour regarding alcohol consumption”.

The scientists then explored how voluntary, moderate consumption of alcohol altered healthy brain function and behaviour and whether it altered the pathology associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Overall, the researchers found that alcohol increased brain atrophy and caused an increased number of amyloid plaques including a greater number of smaller plaques, potentially allowing for increased plaque proliferation in later life.

In addition, the findings revealed that acute withdrawal of alcohol increased the levels of amyloid-beta, which is a key component of amyloid plaques that accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease.

Following further analysis, researchers found that chronic alcohol exposure poorly regulated brain and peripheral metabolism; something they say is another way to accelerate Alzheimer’s disease pathology. This study highlighted that even moderate drinking caused elevations in blood sugar and markers of insulin resistance, which they say not only increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease but also for other diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What’s more, the study also found that moderate alcohol use altered anxiety and dementia-related behaviours.

Providing a conclusion for the study, Macauley noted: “Alcohol consumption may be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

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