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Monday, August 13, 2012

Alcohol Effects Human Brain Differently For Men and Women

Cingulum. Association fiber around corpus call...
Cingulum. Association fiber around corpus callosum in brain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Researchers and authors often look for differences between men and women. It is natural to wonder about how little boys and girls, adolescent boys and girls, young men and women and senior citizens react to events, education, upbringing, environment, food, etc. Twenty years ago John Gray published his book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.  At the time, seven million copies of the book were sold. If you are old enough to remember this phenomenon, then you will remember that John Gray was often on talk shows, news shows, and often both men and women would use the book's title to quickly put an end to a heated discussion. One of Gray's major points was/is that men and women react differently to stress.

But today's post really isn't about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, but about the fact that scientists and researchers continue to study how men and women's bodies, and specifically certain organs, respond to outside influences. This past week the results of a new study's findings were released which demonstrates that alcoholism affects men and women's brains differently. Here are some details about the study:
  • This research was conducted by scientists from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.
  • The lead researchers were Susan Mosher Ruiz, Ph.D. and Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D.
  • The researchers used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the gender specific effects of drinking on brain white matter (white matter is what forms the connections between neurons, which in turn allows for communication between the different parts or sections of the brain).
  • The researchers compared the MRIs of 42 abstinent alcoholic men and women (who had a history of heavy drinking in excess of five years) to 42 nonalcoholic men and women. 
According to PsychCentral, the study reports:
  1.  A greater number of years of alcohol abuse was associated with smaller white matter volumes in the alcoholic men and women.
  2. In the men, the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum, while in women this effect was observed in cortical white matter regions.
  3. The number of daily drinks had a strong impact on alcoholic women, with the volume loss 1.5 to 2 percent for each additional drink.
  4. In men, white matter brain volume in the corpus callosum recovered at a rate of 1 percent per year for each year of abstinence. For people who abstained less than a year, the researchers found evidence of increased white matter volume and decreased ventricular volume in women, but not in men. However, for people in recovery for more than a year, those signs of recovery disappeared in women and became apparent in men.
This research will undoubtedly lead to more research. The more we can understand the effects of alcohol and alcoholism on the brain and other organs, the better treatment will be for those seeking treatment and recovery.
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