Alcoholics facing long-term brain damage

Long-term alcoholics are running the risk of permanent brain damage, according a study published today.
Research has shown that while the brain can regenerate following damage caused by drink, it struggles more after longer periods.
Scanning technology and computer software was used to analyse how the form, function and size of brains in 15 patients changed over a period of six to seven weeks after they gave up alcohol. The researchers, from the UK, Switzerland and Italy, found that brain size increased by an average of almost 2 per cent 38 days after the start of the study.
Levels of chemicals that indicate how intact the brain’s nerve cells and sheaths are also rose significantly, by around 10 per cent to 20 per cent.
Only one patient appeared to continue to lose brain volume and he was the one who had been drinking the longest, for 25 years, the study found.
Dr Andreas Bartsch, from the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, who led the research, said: “The core message from this study is that, for alcoholics, abstention pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and to perform better.
“However, our research also provides evidence that the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing the capacity for regeneration.” The results of such brain scans could be used to help keep alcoholics motivated on staying sober, Dr Bartsch added.
Furthermore, the findings, published in the online edition of the journal Brain, did not simply reflect rehydration.
“Instead, the adult human brain, and particularly its white matter [where nerve fibres are], seems to possess genuine capabilities for regrowth,” Dr Bartsch said.

Scotsman Source: Dec/ 18 2006

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