Cognitive Neuroscience

How can drinking in moderation improve your memory?
Answered by Chris Jordan and Science Channel
  • Chris Jordan

    Chris Jordan

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. The link between alcohol abuse and memory loss is well documented.  If you've ever knocked back a few too many drinks one night only to wake up the next day and learn that you performed a stunning a cappella rendition of My Heart Will Go On atop the bar, you've experienced this link for yourself.  Since you know that heavy drinking seriously impairs memory, you might be surprised to learn that science also suggests a link between moderate drinking and improved cognitive function.

    The idea that alcohol might actually save your brain may seem contradictory, but it's backed by research.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who drank moderately were 54 percent less likely to develop dementia than people who never drank.  In the study, "moderate" meant drinking between one and six glasses of alcohol per week.  However, the same study also looked at heavy drinkers, people who had more than 14 drinks per week.  These heavy drinkers were at a higher risk of developing diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's, especially if they were genetically predisposed to them [source: John's Hopkins Health Alerts].

    While this study didn't focus on any one type of alcohol, other research indicates that red wine may be king when it comes to stopping memory loss.  A study of French and Danish seniors showed that those who enjoyed two or three glasses of red wine every day outperformed their non-drinking peers in memory tests.  When scientists studied red wine to discover what makes it so beneficial, they found that extracts in red grapes may block Alzheimer's proteins from building up in the brain [source: Storrs].

    So does that mean we should all start drinking on a regular basis?  Probably not.  We need more research to determine just how helpful alcohol can be when it comes to improving memory.  And since overdoing it can be dangerous, doctors say it's best not to start drinking if you don't already -- especially since the same helpful extracts found in red wine can be found in green tea, nuts and plain old grape juice [source: Mayo Clinic].

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  2. While over-consumption of alcohol can affect the brain negatively, drinking up to two glasses of red wine daily has shown to have a positive effect on memory. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is beneficial for blood vessels. In fact, research shows that moderate drinkers score higher on cognitive tests than nondrinkers. In addition, research indicates moderate drinkers are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

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