Brain cells survive beer

New study contradicts notion that alcohol kills brain cells

Dec 7, 2004 - A new study disputes the long held belief that alcohol slays brain cells. The researchers point out, however, that it may be too early to order a drink and celebrate.


Roberta Pentney, former professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Buffalo, and her co-investigator, Cynthia Dlugos, concluded that daily consumption of alcohol did create temporary damage in the connections between brain cells. However, the damage was able to repair itself, a "hopeful note," wrote Pentney in a University of Buffalo press release.

Implications of the study "are not well-enough differentiated yet," Dluglos said. "The fact that we don't lose neurons doesn't mean that there aren't real effects on the brain as a result of alcohol."

Pentney and Dlugos said that although there is recovery in the brain cells, the branching of the cells changes after alcohol consumption. While some brain cells return to a normal state, others do not.

"We are trying to delineate the effects [of alcohol] so that humans can understand a little bit more about what taking a drink means," said Dlugos. "I don't know if its good news or bad news, but I know that it is science."

The New York Times reported on Pentney and Duglos's research on Nov. 23.

"The article is a little stilted," Dlugos said. "I just read the part about our lab, which seemed fine. But they used our work to talk about people who are definitely alcoholics with neuronal disorders as a result of drinking themselves drunk every day for the last 20 years. This is not the kind of study that we are doing."

Nathan Bliss, a Columbia University student and also a bartending instructor, told the Columbia Spectator student newspaper: "Eventually people stop paying attention to scientific studies because they are contradictory.

"Studies and academia take a while to change a social dynamic," he said. "Until then, people will go on with what they have been doing for thousands of years--drinking because drinking is fun."