Ever heard of the expression “letting your drink get into your head?” This figure of speech may actually have some literal truth in it. Alcohol does get to the brain. In just SIX MINUTES. That is how fast it takes for alcohol to travel from the mouth, to the stomach, to the blood, and then to the brain. This is the result of a study by German researchers at the University of Heidelberg. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) techniques, the researchers looked at how fast alcohol is absorbed by the body to affect the brain. Consumption of 3 glasses of beer or 2 glasses of wine is enough to reach the blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06%, the level which many countries consider as the blood alcohol content that impairs the ability to drive. (Mind you, there are some countries with lower alcohol limits for drivers). At this level, the researchers also observed the following changes:
- The brain reacts very quickly to alcohol. It takes six minutes from the glass to the brain.
- The harmful effects of alcohol also set in rapidly.
- The level of creatine, a compound essential in energy metabolism and provides protection to the cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases.
- The level of choline, which is a component of cell membranes, also decreases.
According to Dr. Armin Biller of the working group for cerebral metabolism at the Department of Neuroradiology at Heidelberg University Hospital
“Our study provides evidence for alternative energy utilization upon alcohol ingestion, i.e. the brain uses an alcohol breakdown product instead of glucose for energy demands…That [choline reduction] probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes.”
Is the damage to the brain caused by alcohol permanent? Thankfully not. The researchers found that the damage caused by moderate drinking is actually reversible and would be gone by the next day. This means, we can still enjoy a glass of wine every now and then without fearing for our brain cells.
However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to irreversible damage not only to the liver but to the brain, too.
Dr. Biller continues
“we assume that the brain’s ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases. The acute effects demonstrated in our study could possibly form the basis for the permanent brain damage that is known to occur in alcoholics. This should be clarified in future studies.”
The researchers also demonstrated that the effects of alcohol on the brain are not dependent on gender. Males and females are affected in the same way although other factors may play a role, e.g. body mass, stomach contents, as well as individual differences.
So next time you hold a drink in your hand, remember what I’ve just shared with you. Know your limit. That way, you can avoid permanent brain damage.
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