In my previous blog Post # 57, published March 1st, I talked about warning labels on alcohol. Specifically I talked about how the Yukon Liquor Corporation embarked on a warning label program last November and promptly suspended it one month later. You may recall they were using two warning labels, one saying “Alcohol can cause breast, colon, and other cancers”, and the other saying “To reduce health risks, drink no more than 2 (for a woman) or 3 (for a man) standard drinks a day. Plan two or more non-drinking days each week”. So you cannot be blamed for wondering if wine or alcohol is good for you at all, and if so in how much quantity, and why it is good for you. Let’s take a look at some of the latest thinking on this subject.
A recently published article (February 2, 2018) written by Iben Lundgaard et al, entitled ”Beneficial effects of low alcohol exposure, but adverse effects of high alcohol intake on glymphatic function” was published in Scientific Reports under Nature.com. Read the full article by accessing the following link:
However, unless you are a scientist, you will find the technical aspects of this published research a little intimidating. In simple layman’s terms, researchers tested the effects of low and medium levels of alcohol on mice to assess the impact on the performance of their glymphatic systems. So what is a glymphatic system you might ask? Glymphatic function is a brain-wide metabolite clearance system connected to the peripheral lymphatic system.
Your glymphatic system allows your brain to protect itself from the buildup of various toxins in the brain, flushing them out through your blood stream for disposal via your liver.
This is how the brain cleans house or purges itself, thereby disposing of dead brain cells, stress related proteins and chemicals, etc. The glymphatic system is more active during sleep.
Mice were administered both low levels of alcohol (equivalent to 2-3 drinks for an adult human), and higher levels of alcohol (equivalent to 7-8 drinks for an adult human), after which brain activity was closely monitored during the ensuing sleep period. Results indicated that low levels of alcohol (equivalent to 2-3 drinks for an adult human) activated the glymphatic system in mice better than higher levels of alcohol, and more importantly, better than no alcohol at all.
Another recent article written by Michael Schwarzinger et al and published February 20, 2018 in the Lancet Public Health, was entitled “Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008-13: a national retrospective cohort study” and focused on the very strong correlation between alcohol use disorders and early onset dementia. Read the full article by accessing the link below:
The study reviewed adult hospital discharges in France from 2008 to 2013, numbering roughly 31.6 million people, and found that 1.1 million or roughly 3.5% of those hospital discharges were suffering from dementia. Within that 1.1 million group suffering from dementia, 57,350 or roughly 5.2% suffered from early onset dementia (below age 65). Of those 57,350 people suffering from early onset dementia, 32,460 or roughly 56.6% also suffered from alcohol use disorders. So the study suggests that there is a fairly high correlation between alcohol abuse and early onset dementia.
If you look into Alzheimer’s disease you quickly learn that the disease stems from amyloid plaques that build up in the brain, and these sticky plaques eventually start killing off healthy brain cells.
Amyloid plaques are basically protein debris left in the brain and not properly flushed out by the glymphatic system.
If you google Alzheimer’s disease and amyloid plaques you will stumble across a summary of “How to Prevent Alzheimer’s disease”, and the answer may now seem to make more sense than ever:
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease:
- Eat a Mediterranean diet
- Get enough sleep
- Learn new things
- Connect socially
- Drink responsibly
Exercise is necessary to keep the body functional and in prime operating condition, to keep the heart pumping, the blood flowing, and the circulation capable of removing and flushing toxins from the brain and body. Eating a Mediterranean diet means fueling your body with the right fuel to allow it access to all the right minerals, vitamins and nutrients it needs to operate at peak performance for the foreseeable future.
Learning new things and connecting socially means engaging the brain, along the lines of “use it or lose it”, and this results in more use of and exercise of existing brain cells. Getting enough sleep now means that you will be giving your glymphatic system the time it needs to properly flush the toxins and debris (dead cells and proteins) from your brain. Drinking responsibly means that you will have sufficient alcohol in your system to relax, unwind, destress, as well as being able to stimulate your glymphatic system so that it operates more effectively when you next sleep.
I find it fascinating how ongoing medical research is just now beginning to understand the interconnectivity between diet, exercise, sleep, learning, social interaction, and alcohol, and it’s combined importance to the survival and thriving of mankind and the human body. I also am intrigued by the presence of alcohol in that health equation.
Alcohol use would appear to perform some important and useful roles in the human health equation. Red wine has been made and consumed for thousands of years, and is an important and rich source of polyphenols like resveratrol that are good for your microbiome. Taken responsibly, wine and alcohol will also help you relax, unwind and destress after a difficult day, and may even help you in connecting socially. Now we know that alcohol taken in the right quantity will also stimulate and activate your glymphatic system to maintain and improve brain health. This may become even more important if you happen to be one of those many people who do not get enough sleep, since your glymphatic system is primarily active when you sleep.
The remaining question is finding that “goldilocks zone” of maximum benefit and minimum damage to your health, in other words: How Much Wine is Good for You? The Lundgaard article discussed above suggests 2-3 drinks per day is the sweet spot, and it is no coincidence that this is why the Yukon Liquor Corporation and many other countries have adopted that guideline as the standard safe consumption limit. However, keep in mind that a general guideline is an average based on a population as a whole. Your safe limit will not be the same as mine because we are different people with different metabolisms, different health, lifestyles, diet, living and working conditions. If I am fit, eat properly, get lots of sleep, and am socially engaged, my safe alcohol consumption limit should be higher than yours, especially if you are overweight, eat all the wrong foods, are highly stressed in your working career, never get enough sleep and rarely have the time to be socially active.
So the message to me is quite clear, and you do not need years of research studies to prove this any further. Either you reduce your alcohol consumption to the recommended safe consumption level of 2-3 drinks per day, or get up off the couch, exercise, eat properly, get more sleep, get more socially active, and find activities that will stimulate your brain. This way you might be able to raise your own personal safe consumption limit to 4-5 drinks per day (but not every day).
Couch potatoes take note:
your sedentary lifestyle reduces the amount of alcohol you can safely consume. If that is not a good enough incentive to change, then I don’t know what to do with you!