Low dose alcohol everyday might actually "clean" the brain

A new study in mice has suggests that a couple of glasses of wine may actually “clean” the brain and not only clear the mind at the end of a long day. The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

Image Credit: AlexMaster / Shutterstock, Inc.
Image Credit: AlexMaster / Shutterstock, Inc.

This new study shows that low levels of alcohol can reduce inflammation and also clears away toxins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study, said that the long term effects of excessive alcohol on the brain and central nervous system is known. This is the first study that has shown that low doses of alcohol can benefit brain’s health by removing waste and toxins. This is one of the studies that shows that though excessive alcohol consumption is linked to health hazards, low levels of alcohol can reduce the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Nedergaard and his team looked at the glymphatic system of the brain that works by cleaning the brain of toxins and wastes. This process of cleansing of the brain was first described by her and her colleagues in 2012 in a paper. The CSF or cerebrospinal fluid flushes the toxins away from the brain and this includes the harmful proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease such as beta amyloid protein and tau protein. These proteins are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. While this glymphatic system improves with exercise, stroke and trauma to the brain can impair this system they found. This new study explored the effect of low dose and long term high dose of alcohol in mice on this cleansing system of the brain.

Results showed that when the brains of the lab animals were exposed with high doses of alcohol over a long period of time, there was a rise in inflammatory cells and this was particularly high in astrocytes. These astrocytes are the main regulators of the glymphatic sysem. With rise of inflammation in the brain, the animal also lost their cognitive abilities and movement related skills. Those animals that were given low doses of alcohol however (human equivalent of two and half drinks per day) showed lower inflammation rates in the brain and a more active glymphatic system that could clear out the inflammatory markers in the brain and reduce inflammation. The cognitive performance and performance in terms of motor skills of these mice was same as control mice who were not dosed on any alcohol.

The lab mice were placed in a box made of plastic measuring 30 × 54 cm for 10 minutes. They were then given two plastic objects to explore for another 10 minutes. The time the mice sepent exploring the object was called “active exploration” time. Before the experiment they were given injections directly into their brain containing tracer chemicals after which their brain could be studied in details in terms of inflammatory markers and molecular changes.

Nedergaard explained that there is a “J shaped curve” which means that while low doses are beneficial for health, excessive alcohol consumption can be harmful for health. She added that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may be beneficial for the brain while long term heavy drinking can lead to a higher risks of decline of mental faculties.

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