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This is your brain on wine


It was gratifying to read in Decanter that “Wine may protect against dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease,” but I don’t know how to square that with the news, widely reported over the last two weeks, that scientists say wine, even in moderate amounts, can lead to brain shrinkage. (Click here for one report.)

How can wine cause the brain to shrink and then turn around and protect it against dementia?

Then there’s this study that “people with higher education levels exhibit more severe brain shrinkage with age than people with fewer years of education.” Which is bad news for me, since I have a ton of education.

But wait, there’s more! According to this study, exercise may help to prevent brain shrinkage, which is good news for me, since I’m a gym rat.

Then I came across this study claiming that “Scientists have found that consuming [a] vegetarian, meat-free diet leads to brain shrinkage.” Since I’m a protein freak, that doesn’t bother me.

Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what to think, what with all this information pouring in. Gee whiz, I wish someone would explain it to me in real America English, you betcha! But I guess even if I don’t know what to think, it’s a good thing to think anyway, because according to this study, “Mental activity slows brain shrink.” Seems that “people who have been more mentally active over their lives have a larger hippocampus,” and a big hippocampus is better than a little one.

So I think I’ll spend a few hours in the gym, thinking a lot, and then I’ll come home and eat a pound or two of meat and drink a bunch of wine and think some more. It’s nice to know that the things that make me happy are good for me, too.

  1. Steve, insofar as education leads to more brain connections (and thus potentially a larger brain volume) there is more to loose as we age and retire from our professions. Take heart, though. Studies also demonstrate that people with intellectual jobs are more likely to maintain their ‘wits’ longer and have a lower chance of developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Dementia.

    Finally remember that in research, the question asked dictates the answer – or at least the possible answers. Since each research study is a different set of people asking a different question in different ways, its no surprising that results are not always concordant (what does that sound like to you?).

    I would encourage all to read Michael Mohammadi’s ( breakdown of just this kind of study: which demonstrates just how the headine and byline can have nothing with the actual findings of the study and how conclusions can be oh-so painfully wrong.

  2. Morton Leslie says:

    The reporting on these studies is so bad, I treat them like those emails that come and tell me to buy gas in the morning because it is colder and I’ll get more. We need a snopes that deals with medical reporting. (By the way, in case you didn’t know underground tanks are almost perfectly insulated so the gas temp remains constant…also Barack Obama didn’t hold the phone upside down or swear into office on the quran, or refuse to recite the pledge of allegiance.)

    What I find most misleading are the headlines that restricting your lifestyle lowers you risk by 25% …only to find your absolute risk is actually 1 in 1,000 and so the recommendation is for 4,000 people to restrict their lifestyle to find the one person who will benefit. Or to put it another way, 3,999 people take the drug or avoid doing something they enjoy for no reason at all.

    Thanks Arthur for the link, it’s a keeper. As a food scientist, I also read junkfoodscience which looks critically at these reports. For instance, the recent headlines about statins might have some healthy, low cholesterol folks thinking about taking Crestor. Well, it pays to take a look at the absolutes, not the percentages. The public relations spin on these studies makes the wine industry’s efforts look like child’s play.

    The good or bad news is that most of our health issues are predicated on our genes, and so, Steve, you “hippopotamus” is probably predestined in size and maybe it’s safe to eat a few vegetables.

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