Weekly Alcohol Consumption, Brain Atrophy, and White Matter Hyperintensities in a Community-Based Sample Aged 60 to 64 Years

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The objective of this study was to determine the association between weekly alcohol consumption and brain atrophy in adults aged 60 to 64 years.


Brain magnetic resonance imaging scans from 385 adults recruited through a community survey were analyzed. Automated segmentation and manual tracing methods were used to obtain brain subvolumes and automated methods were used to obtain quantification and localization of white matter hyperintensities. Visual measures of cortical atrophy were obtained as were data on health and lifestyle factors. Alcohol consumption was assessed with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.


In men, weekly alcohol consumption had a positive linear association with ventricular volume and gray matter and a negative linear association with white matter. In women, weekly alcohol consumption had a nonlinear relationship with cerebrospinal fluid and white matter. Alcohol consumption was not associated with white matter hyperintensities, corpus callosum size, hippocampal or amygdala volumes in analyses adjusting for confounding variables.


An association between alcohol consumption and brain atrophy is evident at the population level. In women, detrimental effects of alcohol on the brain appear to occur at lower levels of consumption. It remains possible that low levels of alcohol consumption have neuroprotective benefits but is clear that high levels of consumption are detrimental.

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