New Study Finds 'No Safe Dose' of Alcohol Exists for Brain Health

Among the conclusions drawn from the study was that there is "no safe dose of alcohol for the brain," despite widespread assumptions of moderation's benefits.


Image via Getty/Klaus Vedfelt


A new study in the U.K. has revived the discourse surrounding safe alcohol consumption levels, particularly with regards to the substance’s effects on the brain.

The observational cohort study, featured in a Guardian piece from Natalie Grover this week, was designed to estimate the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and brain health. Researchers aimed to determine the threshold alcohol intake for harm while also identifying whether certain groups are at higher levels of risk.

Among the conclusions drawn from the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was that “no safe dose of alcohol for the brain was found.” Furthermore, according to the study, moderate alcohol consumption was shown to be associated with more widespread adverse effects on the brain than were previously recognized. Those who engage in binge drinking and/or have high blood pressure or BMI “may be more susceptible” to such effects. As a result, the study’s authors are calling for regional drinking guidelines to be revisited.

Researchers used the U.K. Biobank database in the study to analyze data from more than 25,000 participants ranging from self-reported alcohol consumption levels to memory tests. A higher weekly volume of alcohol intake was shown to be associated with lower grey matter density in the brain. Researchers also found negative associations between consumption levels and the integrity of white matter in the brain, with unhealthy BMI and/or blood pressure levels making these negative associations even stronger. 

“There’s no threshold drinking for harm—any alcohol is worse,” Anya Topiwala, a University of Oxford lecturer and study author, said. “Pretty much the whole brain seems to be affected—not just specific areas, as previously thought.”

Despite the widely promoted moderation approach to drinking, with other research that has shown potential health benefits of the method, this isn’t the first study of its kind to question this attitude toward alcohol. 

Back in 2018, a paper published in The Lancet also concluded that there is no level of alcohol consumption that should be considered safe for one’s health. At the time, however, several experts pushed back against this conclusion. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health epidemiology and nutrition professor Walter Willett, for example, argued that drawing conclusions on a global level after “[throwing’ together everything in one big pot” is “misleading.”

Here in the States, the CDC—by way of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—recommends that adults who choose to drink do so only by limiting their intake to two daily drinks or less for men and one daily drink or less for women.

Latest in Life