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Brain Health and the Effects of Cigarettes and Alcohol

Do alcohol and cigarettes affect brain health?
Do alcohol and cigarettes
affect brain health?

In 2016, there were about 49 million Americans over the age of 65. It's projected that by the year 2050, that number will grow to 80 million. With so many people getting older, the number of people dealing with mental health issues like memory loss and dementia will increase dramatically.

Those numbers are pushing researchers to figure out and isolate the things that cause brains to age. If we can retain more of our mental abilities as we grow older, we're less likely to end up in nursing homes, hospitals or dead. Who wants to live into their 80s or 90s if they don't know who they are, or what's happening around them?

Researchers conducted the most extensive survey of human brain scans ever undertaken. They took 17,308 scans from the UK Biobank and analyzed them. They trained a computer to look at the information from the scans and assign a relative brain age (RBA).

Your brain age is essentially a measure of brain health. The more you take care of your brain, the younger it appears when compared to your actual age. The study found two things that can significantly impact brain age and health.

The first discovery was that drinking just one gram of alcohol, aged a brain an additional seven-and-a-half days. Keep in mind that a single small glass of wine or average beer holds 14 grams of alcohol.

That means just one drink can age a brain by 105 days. Never mind the effects of multiple drinks or what daily alcohol consumption could do.

Smoking a pack of cigarettes was bad too. Each pack of cigarettes consumed aged the brain by an additional 11 days. The researchers didn't factor in the increased risk of heart attack, stroke or cancer from all those cigarettes.

The bottom line is, the more you drink and smoke, the older your brain is going to be when compared to your peers. That means a greater risk of things like Alzheimer's, dementia or other memory problems.

Many of you reading this are saying, “But I thought a drink a day was a good thing? What about all those people who live to be 100 who drink every day?”

When researchers look at alcohol, one thing is clear. The more someone drinks, the more their cancer risk increases. Contrary to popular belief, there is no healthy level of alcohol you can consume. Just one alcoholic drink a day, every day, can shorten lifespan by as much as two years.

When super-agers (people who live to age 100 or more) are analyzed, they're far less likely to drink alcohol or smoke than the average person. The reason you see interviews with the drinkers and smokers at that age, is because they're the ones who have defied the odds.

Nobody interviews someone who won $2 on a scratch-off ticket, because that happens all the time. They interview the person who won $100,000, because it's so unusual. The same goes for people who live a long life that smoke and drink. They stand out because that's not what usually happens. There are often genetic reasons why those people were able to withstand the ravages of cigarettes and alcohol use for so many years, rather than anything they did on their own.

We've known for decades that cigarette smoking is harmful to your health. If you light up, you know you're taking risks. Unfortunately, the majority of people are still blissfully unaware of the dangers of drinking alcohol. A large percentage of the population still believe a drink a day can be beneficial to your health.

The idea that there is some daily dose of alcohol that's safe or healthy is a lie. It's a clever piece of marketing that research is unable to prove. In fact, from studies like this, we now know drinking even small amounts every day, can significantly age your brain and put your future health at risk. Now you know.

Read the Full Study Here:

Association of relative brain age with tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, and genetic variants

Kaida Ning, Lu Zhao, Will Matloff, Fengzhu Sun & Arthur W. Toga

Scientific Reports - volume 10, Article number: 10 (2020)

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Updated 8/31/2020