If you, like us, have clung to the idea that drinking in moderation is okay — even healthy! — we have some not-great news: According to new research, even drinking just a glass or two of wine after a long day at work may have an impact on your brain health.
Here’s what to know:
The Brain-Alcohol Connection
We know that excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts brain health — specifically gray matter. Previous studies have linked heavy drinking to a more rapid decline in gray matter (which is where information is processed and which naturally decreases with age). But a new study from the University of Oxford, which looked at 25,000 participants in the UK, indicates that even small amounts of alcohol could cause a decrease in grey matter.
“There’s no threshold drinking for harm – any alcohol is worse,” says the study’s lead author, Anya Topiwala. “Pretty much the whole brain seems to be affected – not just specific areas, as previously thought.”
The researchers also found that the type of alcohol — i.e. beer, wine, or spirits — didn’t seem to make a difference.
What did matter? Pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and obesity as well as how you drink. In other words, binge drinkers are at higher risk than people who limit their consumption to a drink or two at once.
This new research comes at a time when we’ve seen a universal rise in alcohol consumption across all age groups due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Drinking was an escape and a way that many people got through COVID,” says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT. The good news? “The most damage occurs over decades,” she says, and it’s only been a little over a year.
We asked Lakatos to share a few tips for cutting back. Here’s what she had to say:
How to Start Drinking Less
1. Use the “every other drink” rule.
When drinking, have one non-alcoholic drink (preferably water) before (or after) every alcoholic drink. “This will slow you down and prevent you from getting too tipsy that it’s hard to say no to another cocktail,” says Lakatos. Drinking water will also keep you from getting dehydrated and may help prevent a nasty hangover.
2. Set a limit before you start drinking.
Before the drinks start flowing, have a plan with a set number of drinks in your head. “Write down how many drinks that you will have then stick to it,” Lakatos says. A good rule of thumb? Try limiting alcohol to one to two drinks maximum per night.
3. Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
Grab a snack before you booze, Lakatos suggests.“This will prevent the alcohol from lowering your inhibitions and leading you to make poor food and alcohol choices,” she says.