“How Alcohol Changes Your Brain”
Many know that studies have suggested
that alcohol in moderation may promote heart health, and even ward off
diabetes and dementia. But fewer people know that no study has ever
proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk
of death, only that the two often go together.
In other words, it is just as likely
that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do,
not something that makes people healthy.
Dr. Tim Naimi, an epidemiologist with
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that, “The
bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol
consumption and mortality outcomes that is a ‘gold standard’
kind of study -- the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that
we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical
Alcohol has been tied to breast cancer,
can lead to accidents even when consumed in small amounts, and is linked
with liver disease, cancers, heart damage and strokes when consumed
in larger amounts.
Some of the WEAKEST science we have is
epidemiological observations, and that is precisely the type of science
that has been used to support that drinking wine in moderation is healthy
Additionally, to examine the effects
of alcohol on the brain, researchers examined eight men and seven women
who drank alcohol through a straw while lying in an MRI scanner.
Only 6 minutes after consuming an amount
of alcohol equivalent to three beers, changes had already taken place
in their brain cells, Live Science reports. Their brains began to run
on the sugar in alcohol instead of glucose, the normal brain food.
The concentration of substances such
as creatine, which protects brain cells, also decreased as the concentration
of alcohol increased. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also
reduced. This probably means that alcohol triggers changes in the composition
of cell membranes.
New York Times June 15, 2009
Live Science June 15, 2009
Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism
May 2009; 29(5):891-902
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
I’m sure you’ve heard that alcohol can be beneficial when
consumed in low to moderate quantities (about 1-3 standard glasses of
alcohol per day), but there are thousands of studies on alcohol consumption
and its effects on your health, and researchers still can’t prove
that moderate drinking leads to a longer, healthier life.
What they have found, however, is plenty
of evidence showing structural damage in your brain as well as other
detrimental effects, even when consumed in small quantities.
I think that is far more telling than
anything else. It’s hard to imagine any significant health benefit
that could outweigh its destructive influence on your brain.
Although some research points to the
possibility that moderate alcohol consumption may actually reduce your
risk of dementia, numerous studies clearly indicate that alcohol consumption
causes too many directly negative neurological complications to say
that it has any real benefit.
How Alcohol Damages Your Brain
In the study mentioned above, researchers
discovered that creatine and choline concentrations in your brain decrease
as the concentration of alcohol increases. Creatine is involved in energy
metabolism and protects your brain cells, and choline is a component
of your cell membranes.
Researcher Armin Biller said,
"That probably indicates that alcohol
triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes.
Our follow-ups on the next day showed
that the shifts in brain metabolites after moderate consumption of alcohol
by healthy persons are completely reversible. However, we assume that
the brain's ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases
or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases.
The acute effects demonstrated in our
study could possibly form the basis for the permanent brain damage that
is known to occur in alcoholics. "
Another recent study published in the
April issue of Human Psychopharmacology addresses the chronic effects
of low to moderate alcohol consumption on the structural and functional
properties of your brain.
Using Magnetic Resonance Induction (MRI)
studies, they found a linear negative effect of alcohol consumption
on brain volume. They concluded that the brain shrinkage reported as
a result of low to moderate alcohol consumption offers more support
for the contention that alcohol is, overall, more detrimental than beneficial
to your brain health and cognition.
Yet another study published in the March/April
issue of Alcohol & Alcoholism adds to the most recent lineup of
studies linking regular alcohol consumption with various forms of brain
In that study the researchers concluded
“Even heavy social drinkers who
have no specific neurological or hepatic problems show signs of regional
brain damage and cognitive dysfunction.
Changes are more severe and other brain
regions are damaged in patients who have additional vitamin B1 (thiamine)
deficiency (Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome).”
Other Health Hazards of Alcohol Consumption
My position is that it’s never
a good idea to drink alcohol.
After all, alcohol is a neurotoxin --
it can poison your brain. Even moderate amounts of alcohol are not recommended,
because alcohol can also:
· Make you more vulnerable to
various preventable cancers
· Harm your body's delicate hormonal
· Cause liver damage
It goes without saying that alcohol should
be entirely avoided during pregnancy as it can cause severe damage to
your unborn child.
In addition, alcohol consumption has
also been found to blunt the responsiveness of your hypothalamus to
immune- and other non-immune signals. An impaired physical stress response
is believed to affect several body systems, including your immune system’s
ability to fight infection, and, again, can hinder your brain cells’
ability to learn and remember.
What About Red Wine?
Red wine is often cited as being a good
source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that has been shown to increase
lifespan in a manner similar to calorie restriction. But what is frequently
overlooked is the fact that there are many other, far safer sources
For example, instead of red wine, you
can use a grape seed supplement such as Purple Defense. Because although
resveratrol is found in grapes, it is likely that there are other accessory
micronutrients and trace elements that enhance resveratrol’s benefits,
so taking the entire whole unprocessed food (minus the carbohydrate
loaded sweet pulp) will give you the most benefit.
Resveratrol is also found in raspberries,
mulberries and peanuts.
Other potent sources of antioxidants
include grape pomace, blueberries, and green tea.
Red wine is definitely NOT your best
source of antioxidants, as some studies would suggest. There are major
benefits to consuming the bioflavanoids that are present in grape seeds
and grape skins, but NOT in the alcohol caused by fermenting the sugar
in the grape pulp.
Consuming large amounts of wine will
also increase your insulin levels, which will eventually have a negative
impact on your health.
How to REALLY Boost Your Brain Health
Drinking alcohol to reduce your risk of heart disease or dementia is
clearly not your best option.
Heart disease, for example, is actually
fairly easy to prevent by implementing simple lifestyle changes, which
I’ve discussed at length in previous articles.
And as for fighting age-related cognitive
decline, there are far healthier, safer, and proven ways to stay mentally
sharp into old age. Here are a few of my most effective strategies:
Eat a nutritious diet, paying particular
attention to avoiding sugar and consuming plenty of vegetables
Eat plenty of high-quality omega-3 fats
Avoid most fish and remove mercury from your body
Avoid aluminum found in drinking water, antiperspirants, cookware, etc.
Challenge your mind with activities such as traveling, learning to play
an instrument or doing crossword puzzles
Try Purple Defense, an all-natural supplement made from muscadine grape
seeds; natures number one source for resveratrol, which can cross your
blood-brain barrier to help protect brain cells.
Posted by: Dr. Mercola