Doubts on alcohol link to dead cells

Celia Hall
Friday 12 November 1993 00:02

THE BELIEF that alcohol 'destroys the brain cells' is being questioned by Danish researchers who say the damage which does occur may be reversible, writes Celia Hall.

Neurologists from Arhus University, using sensitive counting techniques, compared the brains of 11 dead chronic alcoholics with the brains of 11 normal men and found the number of their brain neurons, nerve cells, was substantially the same.

The differences in the brains of the two groups, according to Dr Grethe Badsberg Jensen and Dr Bente Pakkenberg of the Neurological Research Laboratory, was in the 'white matter' that makes up the connections between nerve cells.

In particular they found a reduction in the volume of white matter in the archicortex, which contains the memory centre of the brain. Memory loss is an important symptom of alcoholic dementia, but white matter regenerates, eventually, if alcoholics stop drinking, whereas neurons do not.

The significance of the findings, published in tomorrow's edition of The Lancet, is that it provides better reasons for helping alcoholics, rather than giving up on those who insist on carrying on drinking and who have already suffered brain impairment.

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