Moderate alcohol feeds brain, and alcoholism?

Related tags Alcoholic beverage Brain

Moderate drinking can boost the formation of brain cells, but could
also lead to alcoholism, speculate Swedish scientists, reports
Lindsey Partos.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet fed mice the equivalent of a couple of glasses of wine over a period of two months.

They found that new cells formed in the hippocampus, the learning and memory area of the brain.

From their findings the scientists speculate that "these memory driven cells could be associated with alcohol dependency, the learning and memory aspect linking to addiction,"​ assistant professor Stefan Brené and part of the study team at Karolinska Institutet tells

In general, the number of new cells formed is governed by a number of factors such as stress, depression, physical activity and antidepressants.

"We believe that the increased production of new nerve cells during moderate alcohol consumption can be important for the development of alcohol addiction and other long-term effects of alcohol on the brain,"​ says associate professor Stefan Brené.

These latest findings proffer a less flattering view of moderate alcohol consumption than the mounting evidence that suggests the odd tipple could benefit our health.

A growing body of science has highlighted the possible benefits to mental health - reducing the risk of dementia and the decline in cognitive function - of moderate drinking.

Much work has focused on the red wine compound resveratrol, thought to be responsible for the drink's protective effects on the heart.

A recent study​ on over 4,000 older women, for example, suggests a daily drink could sharpen the mind.

Researchers at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in the US found that women aged between 65 to 79 years, who consumed between one or two drinks a day, tended to perform better on tests for cognitive function and dementia.

But, warns Brené, it is difficult to keep alcohol consumption "moderate". "One major problem is that consumers can develop a dependency,"​ he says.

Brene and the Swedish team will now explore the hypothesis that there is a link. "It is not very easy to test for this. Previous studies have shown that anti-depressants can also induce neurogenesis [nerve cell formation] in mice, but that once mice are irradiated the generation of new cells stops. So one way could be to irradiate mice and see if they develop an alcohol dependency,"​ adds Brene.

Full findings of the study from the Karolinska Institutet are published on the 21 May online edition​ of The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

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