New study reveals genetic link between drinking, brain size

If you're not already cutting back on how much you drink, you might want to consider doing so. In addition to heart problems and a higher risk of cancer, research suggests excessive alcohol consumption can cause reduced white and gray matter in the brain.

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But is alcohol really causing our brains to shrink? A new study published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry suggests alcohol may not be the sole reason for a decrease in brain volume, but rather the link between consuming more alcohol and reduced brain volume is tied to genetic makeup.

The study was conducted by researchers from Washington University and Duke University. The researchers analyzed data from three separate brain imaging studies and found that individuals who drank more often had lower gray matter volume, but this was due to a specific genetic makeup. In total, the investigators had access to data on 2,423 individuals, according to Medical News Today. They also discovered the brain matter that was lower played key roles in emotion, memory retrieval and decision making.

"These findings don’t discount the hypothesis that alcohol abuse may further reduce gray matter volumes, but it does suggest that brain volumes started out lower to begin with,” lead author David Baranger said. “As a result, brain volumes may also serve as useful biological markers for gene variations linked to increased vulnerability for alcohol consumption."

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