ROCHESTER, N. Y. — A drink or two at the end of the day may help you unwind, but your brain is probably a beneficiary as well. Why? Because low doses of alcohol may actually help your brain cleanse itself of toxins and reduce inflammation that can lead to dementia and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
Low levels of alcohol are known to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. Researchers with the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) are now touting this newly-discovered benefit: a healthier brain.
“Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system,” explains lead study author Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at URMC, in a media release. “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.”
Researchers added to their previous research on the glymphatic system, the brain’s cleansing process that removes toxins linked to dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease. This study, performed on mice, considered the effects of acute and chronic alcohol exposure. Mice exposed to high levels of alcohol over longer periods of time had higher levels of molecular markers associated with inflammation, especially in glymphatic-system regulator cells. These mice also struggled with cognitive and motor abilities.
On the other hand, mice who had the equivalent of 2.5 drinks per day had less brain inflammation and better functioning glymphatic systems than the mice who never touched the stuff. The low-to-moderate drinkers did just as well as the teetotalers on cognitive and motor tests.
“The data on the effects of alcohol on the glymphatic system seemingly matches the J-shaped model relating to the dose effects of alcohol on general health and mortality, whereby low doses of alcohol are beneficial, while excessive consumption is detrimental to overall health,” says Nedergaard.
“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,” she adds. “This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health.”
Here’s to you! While too much alcohol is not a good thing, it seems that moderation, once again, is the key to good health. So lift a glass or two for a healthier brain. Just don’t overdo it!
The study’s results were published Feb. 2, 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports.