January 20, 2014
One of the largest studies ever conducted on the long-term effects of alcohol consumption suggests that heavy drinking is linked to significant cognitive decline in middle-aged men. The brains of women, however, seem to be protected against this toxic effect for reasons that aren’t clear.
Cognitive decline in the study was defined in two ways: a decrease in executive function (the brain’s processing speed and efficiency), and deterioration in memory.
Researchers analyzed data from the Whitehall II cohort study, which began in the mid-1980s with roughly 10,000 British civil servants who agreed to complete lifestyle questionnaires and undergo a physical exam at specified times during a nearly 20-year span. The study design allowed researchers to track effects of lifestyle choices, including drinking alcohol, over extended periods of time.