The tests of the harmful effects of alcohol on brain health are compelling, but now experts have pinpointed three key periods in life when its effects are likely to be greatest: gestation (from conception to birth), adolescence late (15-19 years) and older adulthood (over 65 years).
In a scientific article published in The British Medical Journal, Australian and British researchers warn that these key periods «could increase sensitivity to the effects of environmental exposures such as alcohol“And they say that damage prevention policies” must have a long-term vision “.
Worldwide, about 10 percent of pregnant women consume alcohol, with rates considerably higher in European countries than the world average. Excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, associated with a generalized reduction in brain volume and cognitive decline. But the data suggests that even low or moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy is significantly associated with poorer psychological and behavioral outcomes in offspring.
Refering to adolescence, more than 20 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds in European and other high-income countries report having drunk excessively at least occasionally (defined as 60 g of ethanol on a single occasion), they add.
Studies indicate that the transition to binge drinking in adolescence is associated with a reduced brain volume, poorer development of white matter (essential for efficient brain function) and small to moderate deficits in a number of cognitive functions.
And in the elderly, it has recently been shown that alcohol consumption is one of the strongest modifiable risk factors for all types of dementia (particularly early-onset) compared to other established risk factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking.
Although alcohol use disorders are relatively rare in the elderly, the authors note that even moderate alcohol use has been shown to be associated with a small but significant loss of brain volume in middle age, although more studies are needed to check if these structural changes translate into functional impairment.
In addition, they point out that demographic trends can exacerbate the effect of alcohol consumption on brain health. For example, women are now as likely as men to drink alcohol and suffer alcohol-related harm, and global consumption is projected to increase further in the next decade.
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