A toast to better memory

Alcohol is hardly ever associated with enhancement of brain function. At best alcohol would be thought of as lowering inhibitions and at worst as creating an incoherent, stumbling moron. For those of you who like an occasional drop of merlot of an evening however, a new study has suggested that in fact a little alcohol can be good for your memory as you age.

The study involved older adults who completed questionnaires as to alcohol consumption. They then were subjected to neuropsychological assessments and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brain. They were also genetically tested to establish if they had a genetic disposition to Alzheimer’s Disease (the APOE-e4 gene).

The results showed that light to moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks per day for men) is associated with a better ability to recall memories of events (episodic memory) and a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in episodic memory.

They also found that at this level of consumption there were no negative effects on overall mental ability.

According to the researchers their findings are probably due to the fact that alcohol causes the generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. It is tempting though to theorise beyond this purely biological perspective. Could it not also be that people who make the choice to consume alcohol in a moderate way like this are in control of their lives and make decisions that lead to a body and mind that functions more optimally? The researchers themselves acknowledge that part of the effect could well be that people who are able to consume alcohol into old age are possibly healthier and therefore have larger brain volumes anyway.

The other salient point is that this is not a license to drink as much as you want in the expectation that you will then be able to remember the early days of your childhood; in the case of alcohol more is definitely not better. In fact, the evidence is that even one binge drinking session can harm your health by triggering inflammation and tissue damage. It is only moderate drinking that may confer the advantage suggested here.

So whether it be the alcohol itself, or the lifestyle of people who tend to drink moderately, it does seem that you can enjoy an occasional cabernet and be the better for it.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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