08 Oct Alcohol and the Brain: It’s Complicated
Alcohol and the Brain: It’s Complicated
There is continued controversy as to whether moderate alcohol use is of benefit or detriment to the brain.
People have been drinking fermented beverages for ten thousand years. Throughout the ages some have viewed it as medicine and others have called it poison. The truth is not so simple. It can be either, neither or both.
What is moderate alcohol use?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
Many studies have demonstrated that one drink of either red wine or alcohol may confer health benefits. However, there is no question that alcohol use in excess of this is detrimental to your health. The positive effects of alcohol on biological markers disappear with two drinks.
A study published in a prestigious medical journal considered the effect of alcohol on more than 500 people in 195 countries over 30 years. They reported that compared with abstinence, moderate alcohol intake was associated with increased risk of adverse brain outcomes and steeper cognitive decline, especially in language function. They also discovered that the hippocampus of the brain is particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol. They found no beneficial effect to any quantity of alcohol, regardless of how much or little.
The Chief Medical Officer of the UK concluded that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption”
Some doctors have gone so far as to recommend that people drink one small glass of wine a day to benefit brain health. I would not go that far, but I do think that alcohol, if enjoyed in moderation, has demonstrated brain health benefits.
Red wine is known to contain resveratrol. This chemical has been shown to lower the level of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, a molecule that affects cell division, migration and death. This may explain the reduction of depression that researchers have found in red wine drinkers (limited to one or two glasses of wine a day). This knowledge may be useful to develop more effective antidepressants in the future.
When sympathetic nerves are activated, blood vessels may constrict. This may lead to stroke. Alcohol alters the activation of these nerves and relaxes the blood vessels. This allows sufficient blood to reach the brain. Moderate alcohol use has been found to be protective against stroke.
In a Harvard study of thousands of people, scientists determined that moderate alcohol use may protect the brain from dementia. Compared with abstention, between one and six drinks per week decreased the risk of developing both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Moderate alcohol use has been reported to alleviate anxiety. This occurs due to boosted blood circulation and oxygenation, lowering heart rate and alleviating anxiety.
Is red wine better than other types of alcohol?
Some believe that the health benefits of alcohol are derived from polyphenols, such as resveratrol. Polyphenols are not limited to red wine. They can be found in many foods, such as dark chocolate, the skin of grapes, pomegranate and plums.
However, other researchers believe that red wine is no better than beer or other types of alcohol. Scientists have demonstrated virtually identical effects of red wine and alcohol on several specific markers of beneficial health effects.
Depending on the dose, alcohol may be a medicine or a poison The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages is ethanol. The effects of ethanol on the brain are complex. But it seems that when enjoyed in moderation alcohol may have a beneficial effect on brain health.