A new study has found that even moderate levels of alcohol consumption can lead to brain damage and quicker decline in mental skills.

The UK-based researchers say the findings have important public health implications for a large proportion of the global population.

The research involved looking at the weekly alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 healthy men and women over a 30-year period up to 2015.

None of those who took part were addicted to alcohol and their average age was 43.

During the course of the study, the participants had regular brain function tests and at the end they had an MRI brain scan.

Even after the effects of factors such as sex, age, education, social class, physical and social activity, smoking, stroke risk and medical history were taken into account, the study found connections between those with higher alcohol intake and declining brain health.

They discovered those who drank more were more likely to have a form of brain damage that injures memory and spatial navigation.

And while those with the highest levels of consumption faced the greatest risk, even those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol were three times more likely to suffer from the problems, with light drinkers also at risk.

The study, published in The BMJ journal, also found those that drank the most had reduced cognitive functioning ability and saw their language fluency decline more quickly.

The researchers, based at the University of Oxford and University College London, admit there are some limits to the findings because the study is observational and there may have been some biased elements to it.

But they do also claim there are certain strengths to the data which underlines the importance of their findings for public health.

In particular they say alcohol could be a controllable factor which impacts on people's declining brain health later in life.