Alcohol and Brain Health

by David Perlmutter, M.D., Board-Certified Neurologist, #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition

How much alcohol should we consume? We have all heard that there are health benefits associated with low level alcohol consumption, like drinking a glass or two of red wine each day. Indeed, I have made this suggestion on my blogs and in many of the books I have written. While we do know that alcohol is, in and of itself, toxic to nerve cells, nonetheless, the literature would tell us that there is decreased risk, for example, for things like Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who consume small amounts of alcohol each day.

In a new study appearing in the journal, Scientific Reports, researchers again attempted to unravel the facts as they relate to the beneficial effects of alcohol. The study is entitled: Beneficial effects of low alcohol exposure, but adverse effects of high alcohol intake on glymphatic function. And before you get put off by this somewhat compelling title, allow me to explain.

The researchers looked at the effects of low dosage versus high dosage of alcohol on the ability of the brain to clear itself of debris. The study was performed in laboratory mice and concluded that there was actually a benefit associated with low dosage alcohol consumption in comparison to no alcohol consumption or high alcohol consumption, in terms of the brain’s “glymphatic function.” This is the brain’s ability to clear itself of potentially harmful debris.

The low dosage administered to the mice was 0.5 g/kg, and that equates to approximately 1 to 2.5 glasses of wine, depending on body weight. The high dose alcohol administration which was associated with worsening function of the brain’s glymphatic system, was three times as high as the low dose. Interestingly, the authors indicated that this was a dosage that would correlate with “binge drinking.”

So the message is clear from this animal research. There seems to be a sweet spot in terms of alcohol consumption whereby low level exposure is better than none, while there is a detrimental response from high consumption.

I hope this study provides some helpful information in terms of this commonly asked question.

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