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Can Drinking Alcohol Actually Protect Your Brain?

A review of 44 separate studies set to be published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that moderate drinking may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Over half of the dementia and alcohol related studies published since the early 1990's found that moderate drinkers (one drink per day for women and 1-2 for men) have a significantly lower risk of developing dementia than nondrinkers.

According to lead author Dr. Michael Collins, a professor and neuroscientist at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, alcohol consumption appears to be somewhat of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, alcohol abuse can lead to memory loss and impair cognitive function, not to mention the social repercussions. On the other hand, drinking in moderation appears to have several health benefits.

Experts aren't entirely sure how moderate alcohol consumption positively affects brain health, but according to the researchers two theories seem to be most plausible.

The first is that moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to promote cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, which can lead to dementia.

The other theory is that moderate alcohol consumption may act as a workout for your brain cells and make them more fit. Much like lifting weights impacts muscles, moderate alcohol consumption appears to stress your brain cells just enough to toughen them up. This could prepare them for major stresses later in life which may otherwise cause dementia.

Regardless of the mechanism behind these cognitive benefits, the researchers stress that these results are by no means an excuse to drink. In fact, there are many other ways to decrease the likelihood of developing dementia without the risk of potential alcohol abuse.

Some of these things include exercising more, following a healthy diet (like a Mediterranean diet) and engaging in more social activities. Keeping your mind active as you get old is also important. Doing puzzles, reading or even searching the internet are all good ways to keep your mind sharp.
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