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.”
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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