Those who follow the Mediterranean Diet—ranked one of the top weight loss diets by the U.S. News & World Report—know that a daily glass of red wine is good for you, but until now we haven't really understood why.
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that low levels of alcohol consumption may reduce inflammation and help clear toxins from your brain, including those associated with Alzheimer's disease.
"Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system," said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., lead author of the study, in a news release published by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). "However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health, namely it improves the brain's ability to remove waste."
Your brain has a unique cleaning process called a glymphatic system. Nedergaard's research has focused on how cerebrospinal fluid is pumped into brain tissue to flush away the waste associated with dementia. Research has found that our glymphatic system is most active while we sleep—it's one of the reasons getting enough sleep is so important.
The system can also be damaged by stroke or trauma, and it improves with exercise. And Nedergaard's latest research shows that a daily glass of red may also improve our glymphatic system.
The study took a look at the impact of alcohol on mice. When mice were exposed to high levels of alcohol over a long period of time, the cells that regulate the glymphatic system became inflamed and their motor skills and cognitive abilities suffered.
Those that were exposed to low levels of alcohol (the human equivalent of approximately 2.5 drinks per day) actually showed less inflammation in their brain and and their glymphatic system more efficiently moved cerebral fluid through their brain to clear out waste.
Nedergaard says, "Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline. This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health."
It's worth noting that if you don't drink, this isn't a reason to start. But if you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, go ahead and cheers to your brain health.