Exercise May Prevent Alcohol from Damaging The Brain, Study Says
Heavy, long-term alcohol use has been linked by several studies to brain damage. But there may be a way to prevent and even reverse that damage which is good news for people who drink often
Aerobic exercise appears to protect the brain from alcohol-caused damage, according to a new study by researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Heavy long-term alcohol consumption damages brain tissue called "white matter," which looks similar to the decline in neurocognitive functioning that occurs as people age, according to Hollis C. Karoly, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and study co-author.
Given that studies have shown that exercise can slow the neurocognitive decline of aging, researchers hypothesized that exercise may also prevent or even reverse alcohol's damage to the brain.
To test this, Karoly and her colleagues examined relationships among exercise and alcohol consumption of 60 participants (37 men, 23 women), using brain scans.
"This study found that the relationship between alcohol consumption and white matter depends upon how much people exercise," said Karoly.
"This suggests that individuals who have experienced alcohol-related brain problems could possibly use exercise to help recover those effects," she said, adding that more studies are needed to confirm this.
White matter damage can lead to motor deficits, sensory problems and cognitive difficulties.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse. It will be published in the September 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
One of the study's co-authors, Susan F. Tapert, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and chief of psychology at the VA San Diego, authored a study in December that looked at alcohol's effect on a teen's white matter brain tissue. The study found that a teen who consumes alcohol is likely to have reduced brain tissue health, but a teen who uses marijuana is not.