Moderate Drinking: Maybe Not So Good For Your Brain, After All

November 19, 2009 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

Social Drinking & Your Brain: Not Such A Good Idea After All  (image by mzacha on Stock.Xchng) File this one under the category of “Why some science research is marked as preliminary” — and also under “Why the media (including bloggers *cough cough*) shouldn’t jump on these sorts of results too enthusiastically.”

What the heck am I going on about?

Not so long ago, a widely reported study noted that people who were moderate drinkers (about  1-2 drinks per day) seemed to stay a wee bit sharper as they aged, had less memory loss, and lowered odds of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

And there was some underlying support for the idea, too – red wine, for instance, is known to contain high levels of a resveratrol (believed to be beneficial for the brain), and moderate drinking can help improve blood circulation to the brain, increase “good” cholesterol, and other things that might (note that I said might!) be good for the brain.

Both the researchers, the American Medical Association, and other assorted experts advised caution about the idea — some even pointed to other studies that said moderate drinking might actually shrink the brain.  Even so, some people no doubt headed out to the bars, touting their boosted brain as the result of their drinking!

And a more recent look at the info suggests the situation is, indeed, a wee bit more complicated than that.

Researchers at University College London have re-confirmed that yes, moderate drinkers do seem to retain better mental skills as they age – but that other factors may actually account for the difference.

People who drink in moderation tend to be more social, have certain economic and educational advantages, and be in better physical health than non-drinkers – any of which might account for the difference in their thought processes as they aged.

And indeed, when the researchers accounted for the differences, physical activity stood out as the most likely contributor to their improved brain health – not the actual alcohol consumption.  (Physical activity has been shown to have clear benefits to cognitive function, on multiple levels – and those results *aren’t* preliminary!)

Now, keep in mind… even this second study doesn’t prove or disprove much of anything when it comes to specific effects of alcohol, red wine, etc.  But it does reinforce the need for caution in reacting to preliminary results of brain fitness studies.

So if you’re the type that finds these studies fascinating, enjoys keeping up with them and sometimes applying the results to your own life (As I do, obviously!) — just be sure and keep the risks in mind, especially when it comes to actions which have known risks (like alcohol) or potentially unknown hazards (like herbal remedies) and unproven benefits.  Alcohol consumption definitely falls into those categories, so proceed with caution!

And overall?

The wiser choice is to get yourself to the gym, visit with friends, and keep that brain of yours educated & active —  all choices that have lower risks and  more proven benefits than taking a few drinks!

Entry filed under: Be Physically Active!, Nutrition & Diet. Tags: , , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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