When it comes to drinking alcohol, research seems to indicate that use in moderation may have significant health benefits. With that said, too much alcohol wreaks havoc on the body, creating a pro-inflammatory state that burns out the liver and induces dementia.
However, a recent study found that taking a specific supplement could actually block the inflammation and degenerative effects of alcohol on the brain.
Alcoholic beverages are unique in their relationship with human health. When we indulge in mild drinking (about one drink a day), studies show that there are possible health benefits ranging from lower risk of heart attack to overall lower risk of death. On the opposite side of the spectrum, roughly 88,000 Americans die from excessive alcohol use each year. Beyond the expected increase in risk of violence and injuries associated with intoxication, high levels of alcohol over years will damage the heart, liver, brain and blood vessels, as well as increase risk for multiple cancers.
These long-term effects of alcohol all stem from the fact that in high doses, it’s actually toxic. In the brain, alcohol is an oxidant, triggering a series of inflammatory pathways that are thought to contribute to dementia. This damage occurs most during binge drinking. In this study from the Loyola School of Medicine, brain cells exposed to DHA with alcohol showed significantly less inflammation and cell death than those exposed to alcohol alone. In effect, administration of DHA seemed to shut down the oxidative damage that binge drinking usually exerts on the brain.
While this data in no way supports DHA-supplemented binge drinking as a healthy habit, it does provide evidence that DHA could temper some of the negative effects of alcohol on the brain. In addition, the study finds that using DHA could help those withdrawing from alcohol to reduce their risk for neurological problems. Finally, it strengthens the data for the powerful health benefits of DHA on the brain.
Though the best way to keep your body free of alcohol-induced damage is to abstain completely, the following tips may help keep you safe if you do choose to indulge.
1. If you drink, do so in moderation. This means a no more than 1 to 2 drinks a day for men under age 65, and 1 a day afterward. For women, this means up to 1 drink a day (one drink is roughly 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of liquor or 5 ounces of wine)
2. If you drink, consider a daily omega-3 supplement containing mostly DHA. Read your supplement label to be sure you’re getting at least 1000mg of this important fatty acid.
3. The most brain-damaging type of drinking is binge drinking, or 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for males, and 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for females. This places your brain under intense oxidative stress.
4. Red wine, containing the antioxidant resveratrol as well as polyphenols, may be the healthiest choice among alcohols, with data suggesting possible roles in heart health and glucose control.