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Alcohol's Effect on the Brain is Rapid, Detrimental

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Researchers at Heidelberg University in Germany have found that it takes only six minutes for a change in brain cells to occur after drinking the equivalent of about three glasses of beer or two glasses of wine, Science Daily reported June 15.

Researchers gave 15 healthy subjects (eight male and seven female) enough alcohol to produce a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06 percent — sufficient to impair driving but not severe intoxication.

Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), the researchers found that the concentration of creatine, a substance that protects brain cells, decreased as the amount of alcohol increased. Chloine, a component of cell membranes, was also reduced. Lead author Armin Biller of Heidelberg's Department of Neuroradiology said that the reduction in chloine probably indicated that alcohol triggered changes in the composition of cell membranes.

The researchers also found that the day after the subjects had consumed alcohol, their brain metabolism had reverted to what it had been prior to the experiment. However, Armin warned that, “The brain's ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases. The acute effects demonstrated in our study could possibly form the basis for the permanent brain damage that is known to occur in alcoholics. This should be clarified in future studies.”

The study found no differences between male and female subjects, suggesting that the brains of female and male subjects reacted to alcohol consumption the same way.

This study was published online in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

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