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“Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?

Question by Olympic fan: “Does alcohol kill brain cells?
Just wondering, are brain cells really killed when alcohol is consumed?

Best answer:

Answer by C H R I S (Philippines)
“Usually brain cells are not killed. For 16 years, Roberta J. Pentney, professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University at Buffalo, has studied chronic alcohol abuse and brain function. She concludes that alcohol does not kill brain cells but rather damages dendrites–the branched ends of nerve cells that bring messages into the cell.

Alcohol surely affects the brain, as we all know, causing slurred speech, clumsiness, slow reflexes, and a loss of inhibition. But alcohol doesn’t destroy the brain cells to cause these problems.

Rather, alcohol dilates the channels in the cellular structure that regulates the flow of calcium. More calcium than normal flows into the cells and stimulates increased activity. Somehow this abnormal “turning on” of activity causes a loss of the end segments but does not kill the whole cell. Losing the end segments, however, means losing incoming messages, which disrupts brain function.

The good news is: the damage to the brain cells, for the most part, isn’t permanent. The brain repairs itself but the recovery process does change nerve-cell structure. So most function returns to normal but some does not.

Another researcher, working independently finds similar results: Alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells; instead it slows communications. Richard Gross, professor of medicine, chemistry, and molecular biology and pharmacology at Washington University in St. Louis, discovers alcohol combines with the brain’s fatty acids and forms compounds called fatty-acid-ethyl esters. These compounds, in turn, change the flow of electric and chemical signals in the brain. A change in this flow alters how the brain works.

A molecule of fatty-acid-ethyl ester latches onto and enters a nerve cell. Inside the cell, the compound speeds up a release of potassium ions, which inhibits the release of neurotransmitters, and that slows down communication between cells.

A drink doesn’t kill brain cells. It damages the way brain cells communicate and the damage is largely reversible.

(Are you a heavy drinker? If you don’t mind? Anyway good question!)

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