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Can Small Amounts of Alcohol Help Clean the Brain?

By | February 5th, 2018

Excessive alcohol consumption is a well-researched hazard to your health. But for years, the scientific community has been trying to figure out if small amounts of alcohol help or hurt brain health. A new animal study from University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that small amounts of alcohol may actually help the brain’s cleaning system, which could aid in staving off dementia.

The study, which was conducted on mice, looked at how high amounts of alcohol and low amounts of alcohol affected the brain’s inflammation response. Mice that were exposed to high amounts of alcohol over a long period of time showed high levels of inflammation, especially in the glymphatic system, the cleaning system that rids the brain of toxins like beta-amyloid and tau, two of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and many other dementias. But mice that were given the equivalent of two and a half drinks per day showed less inflammation and had a more productive glymphatic system that was able to clear more proteins than mice not exposed to any alcohol.

“Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study. “However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health, namely it improves the brain’s ability to remove waste.”

Of course, alcohol has been shown in other studies to have a negative impact on the brain, even in small amounts. But the MIND diet, a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, olive oil and fruit and moderate in proteins like fish, allows for a glass of wine per day, and scientists have observed that sticking to it could prevent a loss of brain volume and may possibly help prevent Alzheimer’s.

“Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline. This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health,” said Nedergaard.

This study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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