Is moderate drinking good for the intelligence?

Health: This is how devastating tobacco and alcohol affect your brain

Cancer, heart attack, liver damage - it has long been known that habitual smoking and drinking are harmful to health. Researchers are now showing whether the brain is also affected.

Regular consumption of alcohol and tobacco causes the brain to age a little faster. This is the conclusion reached by scientists who, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), have linked images of the brain with people's smoking and drinking habits.

Study: Changes in brain structures through smoking and drinking

Arthur Toga's team from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (California, USA) presents its results in the journal "Scientific Reports".

"It is known that certain lifestyle habits are linked to an accelerated breakdown in certain brain regions," the researchers write. How smoking and drinking as well as genetic factors affect the aging of the structures in the whole brain is largely unexplained. For this reason, Toga and colleagues used data from the "UK Biobank", in which scans of the entire brain are linked to the subjects' living habits.

Determination of the brain age of the test persons

Of the 17,308 magnetic resonance imaging recordings, the scientists used 30 percent to train a statistical model using AI. They taught the model to use the MRI images to determine the relative brain age of an individual subject. This is a person's brain age compared to the average brain age of their peers. So it shows whether the brain is older or younger than it corresponds to its actual age. With the trained model, they then determined the relative brain age of the remaining 70 percent of the test subjects.

In brain performance tests, people with a lower brain age did better than those with a higher brain age.

Results of the study

Toga and his team found statistically significant, albeit minor, effects of smoking and alcohol consumption on the relative brain age. Every year in which a person smokes a pack of cigarettes every day or almost every day, the brain ages by an additional 0.03 years, i.e. by around eleven days.

Every gram of alcohol that a person consumes each day increases their relative brain age by 0.02 years. That corresponds to about seven days. The researchers found no evidence that the effects of alcohol use on the brain affect the effects of tobacco use, or vice versa.

The scientists also examined the effects of more than 500,000 point mutations on brain age. These are changes in individual base pairs in the genome. They only found a statistically significant connection in one gene. The gene - called MAPT - is responsible for the production of the tau protein, which is also linked to the development of dementia and Parkinson's disease.

Only subjects with normal brain functions

Toga and colleagues admit that the connections are not particularly large. However, all test subjects are people with normal brain functions. If people with limited brain functions were included in an examination, the result could be clearer.

Important NOTE: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.

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