Does Drinking Alcohol Help Your Brain?
If you have followed us for a while, you know that the research we’ve mentioned has largely shown negative effects on brain health from drinking alcohol. However, a friend linked us to new research, published in June in JAMA Network Open, finds that moderate alcohol drinking has a positive effect on cognition.
Researchers from the University of Georgia College of Public Health, The College of Health and Human Services at California State University and the Capital Medical University in Beijing China reviewed data covering 19,887 participants in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. Average age of the study group was 61.8. The participants had cognition tests over a period of twelve years.
Quoting from the study:
Low to moderate drinking (<8 drinks per week for women and <15 drinks per week for men) was significantly associated with a consistently high cognitive function trajectory and a lower rate of cognitive decline.
The report went on to note that low to moderate drinkers were less likely to have overall cognitive decline or mental status decline and performed better on word recall tests. This study also mentioned two others that showed some cognitive benefit while cautioning about the risk of drinking too much. In fact, here is the study Introduction:
Alcohol misuse is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Alcohol consumption is associated with a uniformly increased risk of hypertension and stroke, regardless of dose, and heavy and binge drinking is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study team was impressive: of the eight, four are Medical Doctors, five of eight had PhDs, and two are professors of epidemiology and biostatistics. The study has more than adequate procedural detail. But personally, I’m sticking with a far more moderate regime than 15 drinks per week.
As an aside, it was hard to miss that study author Ruiyan Zhang, MD, PhD, did his clinical work and obtained his medical degree at Wuhan University, a place that has been in the news quite a bit lately.
Link to the research here. And JAMA Network provides a nice PDF version if you prefer to read longer copy on paper rather than on a screen.
Or Make You Stronger?
Another friend turned us on to research on red wine, resveratrol, and exercise. That research was performed by scientists at the University of Alberta Heart Institute and the University of Manitoba Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
Resveratrol is a natural polyphenol and an antioxidant. It is present in red wine. Some researchers hypothesize it is responsible, at least in part, for the health benefit associated with drinking red wine. This research sought to see if a heart benefit could be found using a rat research method. Sixty rats were divided into four groups: a sedentary group, a sedentary group with resveratrol added to their chow, a group that exercised regularly, and a group that exercised regularly with resveratrol supplementation. Here are some of the research findings:
Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, has beneficial effects on cardiac and skeletal muscle function, similar to the effects of endurance exercise training.
- Combining resveratrol supplementation with exercise training augments the beneficial effects of exercise alone.
- Increased endurance was associated with increases in skeletal muscle force, cardiac function, and oxidative metabolism.
When the sedentary rats with supplements were compared to the sedentary rats, they clearly had lower body weight and important level of improved muscle function- about 25%.
When the exercising test animals given the supplement were compared to the exercise-only animals, they measured about 20% better on the various tests.
Study author Jason R.B. Dyck, PhD and Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Cardiology Research Centre and the University of Alberta said: “We were excited when we saw that resveratrol showed results similar to what you would see from extensive endurance exercise”. Link to the research here.
My friend found an online summary of the study titled: “Science Says A Glass Of Red Wine Can Replace One Hour Exercising”. She likes that title.
I have questions and concerns about this resveratrol research. First, the rats were given a resveratrol supplement, not red wine to drink. Second, many things that are beneficial when tested with rats fail with us pesky humans. Further, there are other sources of resveratrol other than red wine. It can also be found in strawberries, chocolate, peanuts and pistachios. The few research projects evaluating supplementation with resveratrol - as opposed to getting it from food sources - have mixed results. Important: I'm not a doctor. This is my personal opinion. Do your own homework on this and check with your personal physician.
A cautionary note from Kris Verburgh, MD, author of The Longevity Code : “The toxicity of alcohol causes thousands of people annually to end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, whereas it is very rare to find someone in the emergency department with broccoli poisoning.”
Overall: while the drinking lamp may be lit, we’d still go with a much smaller “dosage” than 15 drinks a week for men or eight with women.
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