A Beer a Day Can Age Your Brain Two Years: Study

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

You may want to think twice before cracking open a cold one tonight. Because according to a new study, that can of beer may be aging your brain.

The study found that 50-year-olds who drank a pint (two alcohol units) of beer or wine a day had brains that looked two years older than those who only drank half the amount.

And the results were even worse for people who consumed more. Those who drank three alcohol units a day had brains that appeared 3.5 years older than they should.

The brains of people who drank four alcohol units a day jumped all the way to 10 years older.

And nondrinkers who started drinking a half unit a day aged their white and gray matter by a half year. So, this particular brain aging study didn’t find any promising news for people who love their brews.

“It’s not linear,” said Remi Daviet, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”It gets worse the more you drink.”

According to alcohol researcher Emmanuela Gakidou, who teaches health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, there is one major problem with the study. It only followed people for a year prior to brain imaging.

So, it’s hard to gauge if the assigned alcohol units really caused all of the damage.

“I think this is a major limitation of the study as it’s likely that the cumulative consumption of alcohol throughout one’s lifetime is associated with the brain, not just the level of consumption right before the images were taken,” she said.

“The relationship between alcohol and health is complex,” Gakidou continued. “And our understanding of that relationship is evolving over time. Based on this study, I would not really draw any definitive conclusions. But I would say that the authors have identified areas for further research.”

Here’s How the Study of Beer and Brain Aging Went Down

Researchers with the UK Biobank study analyzed data from over 36,000 middle-aged people. Participants gave information on the amount of alcohol they drank during the previous year. After, they had an MRI brain scan.

Then, the researchers compared the scans with images of appropriately aged brains and controlled for certain variables like age, smoking status, gender, socioeconomic status, overall head size, and genetic ancestry.

Co-author Gideon Nave believes that the size of the group allowed them to “find subtle patterns, even between drinking the equivalent of half a beer and one beer a day.”

“Having this dataset is like having a microscope or a telescope with a more powerful lens,” he said. “You get a better resolution and start seeing patterns and associations you couldn’t before.”

But the findings did not convince Emmanuela Gakidou. She believes that the study left out too many considerations, such as each participant’s cognitive engagement.

Adding, “I believe that there is sufficient evidence that suggests that brain function decays faster among those that are not engaged in intellectually stimulating activities.”

“The authors are… drawing conclusions that are not necessarily supported by what is presented in the paper. I do not see a significant trend in their graphs.”