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Alcohol-Related Brain Injury Could Be Linked to Obesity

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Research has found that alcohol abuse and alcoholism are often linked with higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity. A new study looked at the relationship between BMI and brain structure, cerebral blood flow, and metabolite concentrations, and found that alcohol-related brain injuries can be a result of a combination of heavy drinking, cigarette smoking, and high BMI.

Stefan Gazdzinski, lead author of the study and currently a researcher at Jagiellonian University in Poland, said that while alcohol contains seven calories per gram, and fat contains nine calories per gram. He added that drinking two or three beers per day (30 or more grams of alcohol) is linked to a risk of abdominal obesity.

Susan F. Tapert, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and director of Substance Abuse/Mental Illness in the VA San Diego Healthcare System, said that abdominal obesity has higher health risks than obesity in other areas of the body such as legs and hips. She added that because rates of obesity are rapidly increasing, it’s important for drinkers to understand these associations.

Gazdzinski said that obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even dementia, as it’s been associated with declining cognitive function over time. He said that he and his colleagues had previously discovered lower concentrations of brain metabolites, which are indicators of brain injury, in overweight and obese people who weren’t alcohol dependent. Knowing that people who abuse alcohol are often heavier than moderate drinkers (due to the caloric intake), they wanted to see whether being overweight or obese accounted for some of the brain injury found in some alcoholics.

For the study, the researchers examined data from 54 alcohol-dependent men who had abstained from alcohol for 30 days. They also looked at BMI and scans that assessed metabolite concentrations, volume, and blood flow of the brain.

Principle investigator Dieter J. Meyerhoff, professor of radiology at the University of California San Francisco and San Francisco Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, said that previous studies have found more brain injury in alcoholics who smoke cigarettes show more brain injury than drinkers who don’t smoke, and that this study suggests that being overweight or obese (even without drinking or smoking) is also linked to brain injury.

Tapert said that because rates of heavy drinking and obesity have increased in recent years, it’s important for drinkers and non-drinkers alike to be aware of the possible consequence of brain injury as a result of being overweight. If obesity contributes to decreased brain health, weight loss and exercise, as well as abstaining from alcohol, could help improve brain health.

Source: Science Daily, Excessive Drinking May Lead to Poor Brain Health Via Obesity, September 8, 2010