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Heavy drinking can lead to ‘pickled walnut effect’

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 Heavy drinking can lead to ‘pickled walnut effect’

The effects of prolonged and heavy drinking can lead to the ‘pickled walnut effect’ on the brain, according to experts.

The study, carried out in Australia by Dr Mark Daglish, Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), says that the excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to serious brain damage and may cause memory deficits.

Dr Daglish says: “There are studies going back a long way looking at post-mortem effects of alcohol on the brain, we can see brain atrophy and we can see a particular type of damage associated with vitamin deficiency,”.

“We also know about alcohol-related dementia where you get globalised atrophy of the brain following usually years of chronic alcohol misuse.

“The classic MRI pictures … show a shrunken brain with extra fluid about it that we generally nickname the ‘pickled walnut’ because of what it looks like,”

The medic also warned that alcohol can also lead to a deficiency in vitamin B1 which could cause memory defects.

The study also revealed that it is not solely the amount of alcohol a person consumes that determines the amount of damage to the brain; genetic factors also play a role.

For some individuals, the liver was the leading organ to be damaged by alcohol whereas for others it was the heart or brain.

Dr Daglish said serious brain damage could be caused by regular “heavy” drinking over a lifetime, a pattern of drinking that would not necessarily raise a red flag for alcoholism.

“You’re talking about heavy drinking, you’re not talking necessarily about dependent drinking,” Dr Daglish said.

“It’s the sort of person who is drinking every day but not necessarily to intoxication … they are increasing their risk of developing gradual (brain) atrophy.”

Dr Daglish spoke at the 2009 RBWH Health Care Symposium, which had lifestyle choices and their consequences as a central theme.

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