By Yishane Lee
St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of Ireland’s patron saint, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. (The three-leaf clover is allegedly how he explained the Holy Trinity.) These days, the holiday is, for better or worse, associated with heavy drinking, and at the risk of dampening the festivities, we thought we should remind readers of the dangers of consuming excessive alcohol and hearing loss.
German researchers reported in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that lifelong alcohol consumption damages the brain. Specifically, it leads to brain shrinkage. (Alzheimer’s disease has also been linked to brain tissue shrinkage.)
The disturbing news was that social drinkers with a lighter consumption of alcohol were just at risk as people who drank heavily, although more research is needed. To do their study, the scientists measured brain currents called brainstem auditory evoked potentials (BAEPs) to assess central auditory pathways in a group of 38 men who were undergoing tumor removal or plastic surgery.
Separately, a British report in the journal BMC Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders found that drinking alcohol blunts lower frequencies—which happen to be the ones you need the most to understand speech.
Combine this with the difficulty people with hearing loss have mastering the “cocktail-party effect”—the ability to discern one person’s speech in the presence of a lot of background noise—and no wonder large, celebratory gatherings involving alcohol are a minefield for people with hearing loss as well as for those trying to protect their hearing. In other words, if you’re on your third or fourth Guinness and can’t understand the Irish bloke shouting about shamrocks (foreign accents are tricky, too!) in a crowded pub, have a tall glass of water next round.
There are yet more risks. Drinking alcohol also causes your blood vessels to expand. This puts you at risk for tinnitus. However, there has also been a hearing-protective effect ascribed to drinking red wine (or eating red grapes). This is due to the presence of resveratrol, a substance found in the skins of red grapes.
The bottom line? There’s no reason not to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a pint of Guinness, but as the saying goes, everything in moderation.