Exercise May Reverse Alcohol-Induced Neurological Damage

Binge drinking is not uncommon; approximately one out of every six adults in the United States engages in binge drinking several times every month. Binge drinking is characterized by having approximately eight drinks in one drinking event for men, and more than five or six for women. Furthermore, binge drinking is classified as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). It has recently been shown that binge drinking can result in significant physical and neurological damage in the same way that other forms of AUD do.

This type of damage, which affects the hippocampus and regions responsible for behavioral control, can diminish the ability to stop and lead to increased alcohol intake and subsequent binge episodes. Although brain cells in the dentate gyrus (DG) area of the brain begin to naturally regenerate seven days after a binge episode, if they are disrupted by further consumption of alcohol during that time, for example, a second binge episode, they will stop regenerating and additional damage can ensue. Other research into AUDs has shown that exercise promotes cell regeneration.

Therefore, Mark E. Maynard of the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston in Texas wanted to see if exercise could aid in the cell regeneration after binge drinking. Using a sample of female rats, Maynard exposed them all to doses of ethanol that replicated binge drinking. Seven days later, half of the rats were given access to an exercise wheel while the other half were not.

After 28 days, Maynard examined their brains and found the rats that exercised had been able to restore their DG and hippocampal cell regions to normal levels while those that did not exercise had diminished cell structure in these regions. Although these results are encouraging, they do need to be supported by additional research in other animal models. However, Maynard believes that for now, his findings show that individuals with AUDs or a history of alcohol-induced neurological damage should consider incorporating exercise into their treatment. He added, “Our results suggest that exercise may be an effective means by which to enhance neural recovery after alcohol-induced damage.”

Reference:
Maynard, M.E., Leasure, J.L. (2013). Exercise enhances hippocampal recovery following binge ethanol exposure. PLoS ONE 8(9): e76644. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076644

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  • jay

    jay

    October 29th, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    Honestly, how many people who like to drink do you think you will find who would rather go out and exercise instead? Believe me I am ALL for the benefits of fitness, but this is going to be one demographic with a mindset that is HARD to change!

  • Meghan

    Meghan

    October 30th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    Very encouraging news!! We know it isn’t going to hurt, so why not see if it can help?

  • sunni

    sunni

    October 30th, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Why more research? If the evidence is there, then it is there and it should be implemented immediately in treatment facilities that are dealing with people with these sorts of drinking issues. I would suppose that the sooner this is started then the better chance one would have getting those neurological pathwyas to heal and reconnect.

  • Stella B

    Stella B

    October 31st, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    I know how good developing a habit and an exercise regimen makes me feel even on the worst of days when I push through it and get it doen. It is such an accomplishment and there is definitely something to be sadi for that little “high” that you get when you know you ave finished and it is a job well done. with that being said, I don’t know whether or not you can reverse neurological damage with exercise although that’s a pretty compelling argument for the exercise industry as a whole. But what I do know is that there is nothing that can make you feel as good or as good about yourself as you do when you workout and complete something that you know is good for you on many different levels.

  • louisa

    louisa

    November 1st, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    Think there will be those who say that this was simply normal regeneration of brain cells especially if in relatively healthy subjects?

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