Background and purpose: Although the risks associated with heavy drinking for increased stroke and neurodegenerative changes are well established, the effects on the brain of low to moderate alcohol intake are unclear. Subclinical cerebral abnormalities identified on MRI have been associated with neurocognitive decline and incident stroke. We examined the associations of alcohol intake with MRI-defined cerebral abnormalities in a middle-aged, population-based cohort.
Methods: During 1993-1994, a total of 1909 middle-aged adults (40% men and 49% blacks) from 2 communities in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study (Forsyth County, North Carolina, and Jackson, Miss) underwent a cerebral MRI examination. Trained neuroradiologists coded the images for the presence of infarction and the extent (10-point scale) of white matter lesions, ventricular size, and sulcal size.
Results: In logistic regression analyses, there was no association between alcohol intake and the presence of MRI infarction. In linear regression analyses, alcohol intake was not associated with white matter grade. However, intake of each additional alcoholic drink per week was associated with a 0.01 grade greater ventricular size (P=0.03) and a 0.009 grade greater sulcal size (P=0.02) after adjustment for age, sex, race, body mass index, smoking, income, sports index, and diabetes. The positive associations of alcohol intake with ventricular and sulcal size were consistent across sex and race subgroups.
Conclusions: A protective effect of low to moderate alcohol intake on cerebral infarction was not found; moreover, increased alcohol intake was associated with brain atrophy.