A study shows that new brain cells form and possibly repair damage early on in abstinence from alcohol.
Tipping glasses in a toast can feel festive. But some don't know when to stop. Nearly ten percent of Americans struggle with alcoholism.
But researchers writing in "The Journal of Neuroscience" showed that rats fed enough alcohol to become addicted had a burst of brain cell growth as little as a week after abstaining, suggesting the brain may repair itself.
"There are new brain cells formed in (the) brain that in fact make more neurons in the brain and we believe that those neurons play a role in the recovery of brain function," said Fulton Crews, a pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina.
Crews and his team compared brain cell growth in the abstaining alcoholic rats with rats on a normal diet. The researchers monitored both groups using a chemical that tracks cell division.
There was more new brain cell growth in the alcoholic rats compared to those who drank only water. But researchers don't yet know what the new brain cells do.
"There's some data that suggests they're very important for forming new memories. Their other data that suggests they are important for mood and may play a role in depression," Crews said.
Crews adds there may also be a link between addictive behavior and loss of neurons so he plans further study to find out. If Crews is right the findings may lead to treatments that boost brain cell growth with the hope of helping alcoholics steer clear of alcohol.
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