We've all heard the old warning from a parent, a friend, or a spouse before a night out on the town: Drinking alcohol kills brain cells. If you're like me, you've probably believed it for awhile. Who hasn't woken up after a long night of boozing feeling like less of a man than you are? You can't think straight, your reflexes are slow, your senses foggy; even when the hangover fades, you feel like a complete mess of a person.
Here's the hard truth: Alcohol may make you dumber, but it most certainly doesn't kill your brain cells.
Let's take a look at the science, shall we? After comparing the brains of dead alcoholics and nonalcoholics, scientists at the Bartholin Institute in Denmark found that, surprise!, the total number of neurons to be the same. "Alcohol, like other substances, can kill brain cells at high doses, but moderate alcohol use does not," explainsPopular Science's Megan Scudellari. "It does interfere with how neurons communicate, affecting one’s ability to perform tasks like walking, speaking, and making decisions."
So no, brain cell death isn't the culprit when you find yourself a total blubbering mess, but a lack of communication between the neurons that make you the charming fella you are.
"When alcohol reaches the brain, it disables function by damaging the connective tissue at the end of neurons. This disrupts communication among neurons and makes it harder for an individual to focus or complete minor tasks," explained Dana Dovey in Medical Daily in 2014. "Our bodies are incredibly resilient and for the most part forgiving works of nature. This alcohol-induced cell rampage does minor damage and most definitely does not result in the cell’s death."
But what if I drink enough booze to kill a Russian platoon? Even that won't wipe our your brain's contingent of cells, apparently: Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that even when they applied alcohol directly to your neurons (I don't even want to know how they did this), the cells didn't die but started producing steroids that messed with communication.
Who started this stupid rumor, anyway? You can thank the American Temperance movement that turned the entire country into a bunch of teetotaling goons during the U.S. Prohibition with the passage of the 18th Amendment. It took nearly 60 years for a groundbreaking 1993 study in The Lancet to finally bust this dangerous myth. In fact, more recent studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can actually have a positive impact on your long-term cognitive health. Suck it, prohibitionists.
So no, alcohol isn't killing your brain cells. If you're has happy about this news as we are, go celebrate with a cold one this evening. We know we will.
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