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Drinking too much alcohol as a teenager can reduce brain development

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Drinking alcohol before reaching adulthood can reduce brain development by almost half.  At least this is what has been observed in in non-human primates.  Details pf the study were published in the journal eNeuro.

When we reach adulthood, our brain enters into the last stages of development.  Consequently this is the same time that many teenagers start drinking alcohol.  In the UK it has been reported by Alcohol Change that in 2016, 23% of 15 year olds reported having been drunk in the last four weeks.  In Northern Ireland 82% of 18-29 year olds said they drink compared to 58% of 60-75 year olds.  In Britain there is a culture of drinking and from a young age.  When teenagers reach the age of 15/16 it is not unusual to start drinking as a means to socialise with their friends, often in excessive quantities.

However teenagers and young adults don’t always understand the risks they are taking by drinking alcohol.  Some of the dangers might be better understood such as liver cancer or heart problems. Others dangers that are less researched are less commonly known, like how alcohol can effect brain development!

bière alcool boire
Credits : MaxPixel

A study published a few days ago suggests that a large consumption of alcohol can reduce the rate of brain development, white brain matter and sub-cortical thalamus by almost half per year.  At least this is what research on rhesus macaque monkeys at Oregon’s National Research Center of Primates is suggesting.

Researchers explained that to carry out this study they measured brain development with the help of Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 71 monkeys who were offered ethanol or alcoholic drinks.  Blood samples were taken before the study and then 6 and 12 months later.  After an analysis of the results, it appeared that high consumption of alcohol reduced the rate of brain development by 0.25 mililitres per year for each gram of alcohol that was consumed per kilogram of body weight.

In human terms, this means that brain development could be reduced by 47% per year if we consume around four beers per day before adulthood.

Between 1999 and 2006, deaths related to cirrhosis increased by 65% while deaths linked to liver cancer doubled. These statistics were revealed in a study published only a few weeks ago in the British Medical Journal.   Alcohol is the main reason for these sharp increases and adults aged between 25 and 34 years are those who are most at risk (an increase by 10.5% per year).


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