Alcohol consumption across the world is on the rise. While excessive alcohol consumption is associated with cognitive decline and other health outcomes, the effects of moderate alcohol consumption are not clear. This study aims to evaluate the risk of adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline associated with moderate alcohol consumption.

This observational cohort study included a total of 550 participants (mean age 43) who were not alcohol dependent. The weekly alcohol intake and cognitive performance were measured over 30 years. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the endpoint. The primary outcomes of the study were structural brain measures, including hippocampal atrophy, grey matter density, and white matter microstructure/ Functional measures of the participants were also recorded.

During 30 years of follow-up, higher alcohol consumption was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy. The risk was dose-dependent, with those consuming over 30 units a week being at a higher risk compared with those who did not drink at all (odds ratio 5.8). Participants who were drinking moderate amounts of alcohol were at a three-fold higher odds, as compared with abstainers.

The research concluded that even a moderate amount of alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of hippocampal atrophy.