Winos suffer more brain damage than beer drinkers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

If you feel bad about having too many pints of green beer on St. Patty’s, don’t fret: at least you weren’t guzzling wine.

Researchers from Göttingen University in Germany recently discovered drinking wine causes more damage to the brain than drinking beer.

According to findings published in the Alcohol and Alcoholics journal, the average size of the hippocampus region of the brain in wine drinkers was only 2.8 ml, compared to 3.85 ml in non-alcoholics.

David Sherry, psychology professor and director of Western’s graduate neuroscience program, explained the hippocampus is a key component to memory.

“The hippocampus is part of the temporal lobe of the human brain. It’s an area that has a lot of different memory functions,” Sherry said. “A shrunken hippocampus can negatively affect memory and spatial awareness.”

The Göttingen research is the first to examine wine’s relation to the human brain. However, many studies have shown wine’s positive effects on the heart, particularly in lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol.

But beer has the upper hand in the neurological department.

The average hippocampus of beer drinkers in the study was 3.4 ml, showing much less shrinkage than in those who drank wine.

Western sociology professor Paul Whitehead questioned the Göttingen findings.

“I would think that one would want to have evidence from other populations as well, because there may be class differences between alcoholics who drink wine and alcoholics who drink beer,” he said.

Whitehead attributed the study’s results not to the alcohol content of the beverages, but to their chemical makeup.

“The issue is one of the complexity of the beverages and the impurities or toxins you might find in either one,” Whitehead explained. “There are lots of chemicals in wine that can have different effects.”

For instance, he said the likelihood of headaches from drinking red wine is not because of the alcohol content, but from its other chemicals and ingredients.

Luckily, both wine and beer lovers alike should not worry about losing their marbles any time soon " or changing their beverage of choice.

“Moderate drinkers should not be too concerned about our findings,” echoed the study’s lead researcher, Göttingen professor Julia Wilhelm. “It would be too preliminary to apply our findings to [them]. We only investigated patients with diagnosis of alcohol dependence.”

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