Studies Link Alcohol Consumption to Death, Memory Loss
Two studies demonstrate the health dangers of alcohol consumption. The first shows that in North and Latin America 80,000 deaths can be traced to alcohol each year.
In their study researchers from the Pan American Health Organization, a branch of the World Health Organization, used death certificates from 16 countries over a two-year period to determine cause of death, with 84 percent of the deceased men.
Maristela Monteiro , lead author of the study and senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse at the Pan American Health Organization, explains that all of the deaths are completely preventable.
The Centers for Disease Control defines heavy drinking as more than one drink consumed per day for women and two drinks per day for men. However, this is hardly the standard observed by the general population when deciding how much alcohol to consume on a given occasion.
The study showed that liver disease was the most-referenced cause of death, but the causes also included stroke, heart disease, falls, suicides and interpersonal violence. The highest death rates occurred in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which also report the highest alcohol consumption in the region. Those countries also tend to have fewer resources, including health care.
Even in the U.S., says Monteiro, only 30 percent of physicians talk to patients about whether they drink. She says people should take time to do a screening at home.
The second study examined the impact of alcohol consumption on memory loss. The researchers examined 5,000 men and 2,000 women over a ten-year period, finding that two and a half drinks per day accelerated memory loss by up to six years. The same memory loss did not occur among those that abstained from alcohol consumption and those that drank only moderately.
Study author Severine Sabia explains that while moderate alcohol consumption is likely not damaging to the brain, heavy alcohol consumption can cause cognitive functioning problems even in middle age.
The study showed that two and a half drinks per day accelerated the decline in all cognitive functions in men, but in women there was not a strong association identified between heavy drinking and a faster decline. However, the study did not include a large proportion of female drinkers, so the findings may be inconclusive for women.
While the study showed a connection between cognitive function decline and heavy drinking, moderate drinking should not be considered safe when it comes to brain health. Rather, it can be considered an open-ended question that requires more research to determine its full impact on neural health.