Page last updated: August 14, 2018
Low alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s

Previous research has shown that Alzheimer’s is caused by the accumulation of proteins called amyloid-beta plaques in the brain, which kill neuron cells. Researchers have discovered that a combination of increasing one’s heart rate through exercise, getting enough sleep each night and drinking small quantities of wine each day can help boost the brain’s ability to clean itself and protect against the build-up of these toxic proteins.

Research using animal studies has demonstrated that certain lifestyle behaviours boost the brain’s self-cleaning, or glymphatic, system which clears out amyloid protein that clumps together and prevents brain cells from communicating with each other.

Dr Ian Harrison, from University College London, told the Cheltenham Science Festival that research was now focusing on finding ways to prevent the glymphatic system from failing. He explained that studies in mice focusing on cerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid found in the brain and spinal cord, have shown that the right amounts of exercise, sleep and alcohol can stimulate the brain’s ability to clean itself. Researchers found that the glymphatic system in mice that were asleep was 60% more active than in those that were awake. “This is good evidence that the glymphatic system is active during sleep,” said Dr Harrison. “That kind of makes sense because, if you think about it, when your brain is active during the day these brain cells are going to be actively producing all these waste products, so it is only at night when our brain switches off that it has the chance to switch on our glymphatic system and get rid of all these waste products.”

Studies in mice had shown similar results with exercise. “When the animals have voluntary access to exercise there is massive increase in the amount of glymphatic function,” Harrison said. “The research has postulated that it is the increase in heart rate that drives this cerebrospinal fluid into the brain.”

The researchers also treated mice with low-level, intermediate and high-level doses of alcohol for 30 days and looked at the impact upon the glymphatic function. With low-level doses of alcohol - the equivalent of a third of a unit a day - there was a 30 to 40% increase in the brain’s self-cleaning but a corresponding reduction following exposure to both intermediate and high-levels of alcohol.

‘Your Unbelievable Brain: Wine, Sleep And Exercise’ was presented at the Cheltenham Science Festival by neuroscientists Mark Lythgoe, Jack Wells and Ian Harrison on Tue 5 Jun 2018.

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