A Glass of Wine a Day May Increase Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

We’ve been told that wine may be beneficial — supporting heart health, which we all know is linked to brain health.

With 913 million gallons of wine being consumed in 2015, I think it’s safe to say that we enjoy a sip or two, here and there.

Before you get too excited, however, know that moderate drinking may significantly increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact, according to Oxford University, a glass of wine a day, may be enough to damage the brain, increasing your risk of neurodegeneration.

How is it that research is conflicting, and what does it mean in relation to preventative measures?

Study Finds — Moderate Drinkers Display a Higher Risk of Alzheimer’s

It’s often been said that ‘moderate’ drinkers can actually benefit from one glass of wine a day, but according to the latest research, this may not be the case. After tracking 550 participants over the course of 30 years, it appears that moderate drinkers, who stick to the recommended weekly limits, are three times more likely to suffer from brain atrophy.

As the brain begins to deteriorate, a steeper rate of cognitive decline becomes more apparent. In order to establish the link between drinking and brain health, brain imaging techniques were used. What they found, was that those who drank between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week (six to nine medium-sized glasses of wine), were three times more likely to suffer from atrophy within the hippocampus.

Just as a refresher, the hippocampus is:

  • A region in the brain that is a critical part of our limbic system (which combines higher mental and emotional functions into one system).

  • Vital in relation to memory, particularly long-term memory storage.

  • Typically, one of the first regions to be affected in Alzheimer’s patients, resulting in confusion, memory loss, and issues surrounding spatial navigation.

Within this study, published in BMJ, participants who regularly consumed alcohol were compared with a group of non-drinkers. Those who drank the heaviest, consuming more than 30 units of alcohol per week, were at the greatest risk. In fact, they displayed a nearly six-fold increase. Here is a brief summary of the study:

  • 550 men and women participated, with a mean age of 43 at study baseline. Although chronic dependent drinking is associated with Korsakoff syndrome, less is known about the long-term effects of non-dependent consumption. This was, of course, the purpose of this longitudinal study.

  • This study measured alcohol intake and cognitive performance repeatedly from 1985 to 2015. At study baseline, none of the participants were alcohol dependent.

  • Structural brain measurements were of the greatest interest, including grey matter density, white matter microstructure, and hippocampal atrophy. Functional measures regarding cognitive decline were also important.

  • Overall, an increased risk of hippocampal atrophy was dose dependent. There was also no protective effect of light drinking in comparison to abstinence. It was concluded that even at moderate levels, alcohol consumption induces adverse brain outcomes, including hippocampal atrophy.

Why Have We Been Told That Wine Is Healthy?

You may have seen it in the headlines — drinking a glass of wine a day, may keep the doctor away.

Now, before we dive into specifics, it’s important to note that these articles and studies have typically focused on heart health. When drinking wine in moderation (one drink for females and two drinks for males), research has found that this routine may reduce one’s risk of a heart attack by 30 percent.

Similar benefits have been seen when studying conditions such as diabetes — but there appears to be a fine line. Also, although these benefits may seem positive, they do not take into account other body functions. In this case, we’re interested in the brain — and although a daily glass of wine can benefit your heart, that doesn’t mean that it’s “healthy.”

These studies have reported that when drinking in excess, your risk of heart disease and certain cancers will actually increase. Although red wine, for instance, contains antioxidant-rich resveratrol, it isn’t enough to justify health benefits. In fact, you could consume health-boosting polyphenols in dark chocolate, tea, or blueberries.

So, what’s going on within these types of studies?

  • The effects documented are due to the ethanol (or alcohol) in the wine itself. Meaning, in terms of the potential heart-healthy benefits, the same effects could be accomplished when drinking beer or liquor.

  • Moderate level of ethanol increases what’s known as our HDL — or ‘good’ cholesterol. This in turn, can help reduce inflammation inside the arteries and may even improve insulin sensitivity.

Now, before you celebrate, know that although some minor benefits have been discovered, the risks and potential adverse effects outweigh the positive effects. It’s clear that alcohol increases one’s risk of liver, breast, colon, and esophagus cancer — and now, we’re seeing how even moderate consumption damages the brain over time.

This new research conflicts with some older research, stating that moderate alcohol consumption actually reduces your risk of dementia. Overall, there are many possible contributing factors. Meaning, the relationship between alcohol and the brain isn’t necessarily that black and white.

At the end of the day, even if there are potential protective benefits associated with moderate consumption, there’s no denying that alcohol damages your organs. We need to start viewing our bodies in a more holistic manner — as everything is connected in terms of function.

Experience the Benefits of Wine without the Damaging Effects of Alcohol

There appears to be a very fine line between a ‘healthy’ amount of alcohol, and levels that increase your risk of various diseases. For every few headlines stating the positive effects of alcohol, there are dozens more that warn the general public about even moderate drinking and dementia risk.

Why risk your cognitive health, when you could actively take proactive measures?

Yes, studies have found some positive associations between wine and heart health, but these same benefits can be experienced when consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. It’s all about caring for your body, giving it the types of building blocks it needs to function at an optimal level.

Some of the best brain-healthy foods to introduce into your regular diet include, but are not limited to:

  • Wild caught fish, such as salmon

  • Nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts

  • Avocados

  • Blueberries

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Green tea

  • Dark chocolate

  • Legumes

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, is that you should be consuming a diet that is minimally processed. The more food is manipulated, the unhealthier it becomes. Do not be sucked into marketing schemes regarding low-fat diets and highly processed ‘all-natural’ foods.

Take care of your brain, starting today — it’s the only one you have!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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