Can Drinking Make Us Smarter?

A few cocktails may add to up to a healthier brain

Just as an apple a day may keep the doctor away, a glass of wine a few times a week could keep your brain at its peak. That’s according to a Norwegian study that found light to moderate wine consumption was associated with better cognitive function.

The study, published in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, followed 5,033 men and women who averaged 58 years of age, for seven years. During that time, volunteers underwent a range of tests that assessed various aspects of brain function. Those who drank four or more glasses of wine every two weeks scored significantly better than those who didn’t drink at all, even after adjusting for age, education, weight, depression and cardiovascular disease -- the major risk factors for cognitive decline. As expected, people who were older, less educated, smokers and those with depression, diabetes, or hypertension received lower test scores.

What the study did not take into account was the fact that people who drink moderate amounts of wine may lead healthier lifestyles, by eating better or exercising more regularly. However, the researchers point out that most of the 68 studies done on wine and brain health in the past few decades all show better cognitive function and a reduced risk of dementia from moderate alcohol intake. Antioxidants called polyphenols are thought to play a role in both brain and heart health by reducing inflammation, improving blood flow and protecting the arteries from hardening.

The researchers also are quick to stress that where alcohol is concerned, more definitely does not equal better. Going overboard on wine, beer or spirits increases the risk of inflammation, dementia and much higher rates of certain types of cancer.

So what’s considered moderate? Less than four ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer a day for women and less than eight ounces of wine or 24 ounces of beer a day for men. However, even that much alcohol isn’t without its risks. One drink a day boosts the chances of cancer by 10 percent. Three drinks a day (four for men) is as bad for you as a pack-a-day smoking habit.

Keep your brain healthy and the rest of your body, too, by limiting your alcohol intake to one drink a couple of times per week. Other ways to reduce your risk of dementia and age-related decline: Exercise regularly, eat plenty of fish, fruits and vegetables, maintain a normal body weight and socialize frequently. Accomplish them all at once by hosting rotating dinner parties with Mediterranean-inspired menus. Go for a run beforehand to stoke the appetite, or a walk afterwards to aid digestion. See, who says healthy living has to be a drag?

Do you drink because of the health benefits? Chime in below!

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