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Brain Cells

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62967.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 4:22 am Reply with quote

QUESTION: What effect does alcohol have on brain

FORFEIT: It kills them

ANSWER: It makes new cells grow less quickly.

The idea that alcohol kills brain cells dates back at
least as far back as the early temperance writers, but
it has no basis in scientific fact. In fact Jensen
and Pakkenberg took samples from alcoholics and
non-alcoholics and showed that there was no
significant difference in either the overall number or
the density of neurons between the two groups, and
many other studies have shown that moderate drinking
can in fact help cognition, and a study in Sweden
showed that more brain cells are grown in mice who are
given alcohol.

So what about chronic drinking, that can kill your
brain cells right? Well, not really. While there is
no doubt at all that alcohol abuse can cause serious
damage, not least to the brain, there is no evidence
that these problems are down specifically to the death
of cells, more likely the alcohol interferes with the
functionality of the brain.

The effect of alcohol on the brain is an area of great
interest to scientists at the moment, it has been
found that high doses of alcohol might inhibit the
growth of new brain cells, though subsequent
abstinence could lead to a growth surge, helping the
brain to bounce back.

62978.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 4:39 am Reply with quote

This article is interesting, showing that if you get rats absolutely plastered, and then sober them up, their brains go back to making their normal number of cells.

The stuff at the bottom of that article surprised me. I'd come to accept that 10 months (or thereabouts) was the age that new brain ceels stopped being produced, and it was then that an increase in connections between them becamse the dominant factor in brain functionality. Twaddle, it appears.

62993.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 5:18 am Reply with quote

Oh, wondrous - the world turned upside down! One of those things you hear all your life and never bother to question, no matter how sceptical you think you are!

63021.  Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:43 am Reply with quote

Perhaps a more fruitful (and crisper) question in comedy terms would be simply:

What effect does alcohol have on your brain?

You'd still be very likely to get the forfeit.

Agreed that it's a belter of a nugget, though.

179013.  Wed May 30, 2007 7:20 am Reply with quote

I was saddened by the presentation of the information that alcohol does not kill brain cells. Not because I see any benefit in myth but because there was little to balance the 'snippet' of information. To quote from the Science Daily reference given above:

"When used in excess, alcohol damages brain structure and function. Alcoholics have impairments in the ability to reason, plan or remember,"

There are positives strides being made in learning about brain recovery - there'll need to be as between 1991 and 2001 alcohol related deaths have doubled. With the Royal College of Physicians arguing for a ban on advertising and reporting a growing drinking problem in children (including child liver cirrhosis statistics), this is more than moralising panic.

The Lancet.Vol.369. March 24 2007 contained a report measuring harm done by various mind altering substances which found alcohol 'nearly as harmful as heroin' (See link below for summary).

I think by providing a well chosen fraction of information this subject has been dangerously misrepresented at a time when medical community is openly asking for recognition of the harm alcohol frequently causes.

It's made me very sceptical of how QI represents 'facts'.

179026.  Wed May 30, 2007 7:42 am Reply with quote

QI doesn't claim to be a health documentary.

179030.  Wed May 30, 2007 7:49 am Reply with quote

Hi Floppit, and thanks for your feedback.

I was the elf originally responsible for this question; as you will see from my original post above, I said:

While there is no doubt at all that alcohol abuse can cause serious damage, not least to the brain, there is no evidence that these problems are down specifically to the death of cells

As you say, this is an important point, and while I can't specifically remember the recording, it will likely have been in Stephen's notes. Because of the nature of QI, sometimes researched points are not mentioned or cut out of the final edit - we never quite know which direction questions will go. In this instance, the subject flowed to beer-goggles and a general teasing of Stephen before it was possible to go into as much detail as we might otherwise.

I can understand your frustration, and hope that a) your faith in QI hasn't been knocked too much, and b) that you stay around on these boards and join in with the discussions.

179082.  Wed May 30, 2007 9:22 am Reply with quote

Thank you eggshaped for a very polite and prompt comment. Thanks for the welcome too, at the moment I feel as though I am here by accident though!

I watched the episode last night as a repeat and agree that the conversation did lead towards beer goggles and teasing. Obviously I can't know what might have been said if it hadn't.

What concerned me enough to seek out discussion was that the 'shock value' of disputing a widely accepted fact came from splitting some very fine hairs in a way that gave the appearence of alcohol as less neurologically damaging than believed.

I accept that this appearence was perhaps in part due to the combination of the discussion and the visual backdrop of 'cheers' as the group raised their glasses and that this probably wasn't intentional. I also accept that QI isn't presented as a medical programme, however in this instance it was 'presenting' it's information as medical fact and with that I believe rests a degree of responsibility.

In fairness, more is learned about the effects of alcohol at a rapid rate as it touches on thresholds of science, not just in neurology but also in genetics and social research. I did smile at myself when I realised I cited information from a month or two ago when the programme was released a year or so ago!

It's been a good lesson to me as a person who considers myself quite sceptical - I didn't realise quite how much I had trusted QI until now. I think it's a healthy thing to realise how easy it is to see a few areas of the media as impartial and accurate.

It's a compliment that I honestly believe QI has an impact on the perception of facts, however the truer that is the more ethical questions it raises, especially in the realm of shocking medical facts.

179093.  Wed May 30, 2007 9:49 am Reply with quote

You'd be surprised how many patrons of this website were originally brought here because of a quibble they had about the show.

Of course we always try to present facts as fairly and correctly as possible, but sometimes due to the constraints of being an entertainment show things can be lost or hidden. This is perhaps more conspicuous with serious topic like alcohol abuse, but I hope that you realise that it wasn't our intention to trivialise such a subject - rather to put to bed a tired cliché about "killing brain cells".

In fact, to show that we do try to balance things out, in another show in the D-series we talk about the fact that men who drink alcohol lose their inhibitions quicker than women - however we later add "women are more prone to alcohol related brain and liver damage"

Furthermore, you will no doubt find QI a wholly more enjoyable experience in the future if you take each question with a small amount of healthy scepticism and follow up anything you question with your own research. For instance, I was reading this week about how magnets may help to regenerate brain cells.

179952.  Sat Jun 02, 2007 10:07 pm Reply with quote

I find this subject very curious because I am currently doing cognitive biology this year at uni and we have been taught that by the time you are 3 years old you will have all the brain cells you will have throughout your life. We have also been taught that alcohol doesnt directly kill brain cells it causes the protective layer around the brain to swell which makes the brain cells die. From what I have read of your sources (and I admit I skimmed) the conclusion that it only stops brain cells regrowing has been from testing on animals other than humans. So possibly if my information is correct drinking alcohol will only make brain cells stop regenerating in the under 3s? In which case my advice would be to stop spiking your childs bottle... Or do you have evidence that brain cells do continue to grow after infancy?

180087.  Mon Jun 04, 2007 3:31 am Reply with quote

I am currently doing cognitive biology this year at uni and we have been taught that by the time you are 3 years old you will have all the brain cells you will have throughout your life.

I'm afraid you have been taught incorrectly.

Check out the work of Fred Gage, who, in the 90s, showed that the authodoxy was wrong.


180126.  Mon Jun 04, 2007 5:39 am Reply with quote

Damn! Good to know my moneys going towards a useless education lol

180131.  Mon Jun 04, 2007 5:55 am Reply with quote

Why not challenge those teaching you Sim? And see what they come back with.

and then let us know if they come up with any quite interesting reply.

180848.  Thu Jun 07, 2007 2:25 am Reply with quote

More brain cell research here

Laughing Feet
206866.  Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:59 pm Reply with quote

Yes, but ...hmph .. see ... I used to (hic) .. and then there was ... what was I saying? Oh, yes ... you're my best mate, pal... I love you, I do ...

<sorry, couldn't resist>


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