Fact or Fiction: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

By James Madeiros


It’s something we hear growing up along with warnings about getting hairy palms from having too much fun during alone time and going blind from watching too much TV in the dark – alcohol will kill your brain cells!

Well kids, that’s just not true … although you still may want to be careful of the TV. It’s dangerous.

For the record: Alcohol does not kill brain cells. It can jack them up pretty hard, but it doesn’t kill them. Some people think the “myth” stems from the Prohibition era and is a product of propaganda. Others believe it originated in studies in the 90s that showed alcoholic test subjects had fewer brain cells than their straight counterparts.

Of course, none of these high-minded theories beats the anecdotal evidence that spills out onto the streets after the bars close every night, but the (perhaps somewhat frightening) fact is that even the worst among them hasn’t killed any brain cells.

They may have damaged some, though. Alcohol is known to damage the ends of neurons, which are called dendrites. So, even though the cell doesn’t die too much booze can have a very negative impact on its ability to communicate and coordinate with other cells.

Alcoholics of the most serious kind have been known to develop what’s known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder that leads to severe memory loss and is caused by damage to the dendrites in the cerebellum.

Although it arguably takes a lot of alcohol to develop a thiamine deficiency bad enough to cause WK, it’s probably best to spare those dendrites for when they’re needed most – which is pretty much all the time.

Legal Stuff: Of course, we should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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