There's been plenty of hype around the story that just three glasses of champagne a day can prevent dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Great news for drinkers of Krug and Veuve Clicquot right? Unfortunately, all this is based on a study conducted in 2013 and the problem is that the study was not in humans but in rats! Another example of exaggerated or fake news.
Researchers at the University of Reading found that drinking champagne improved spatial memory, the ability to navigate to wherever you want to go in a study involving 24 rats. An example of spatial memory is remembering how to get home when you drive to the supermarket.
Champagne contains phenolic acids from the grapes it is made from - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Phenolic acids have been shown to protect brain cells, reduce inflammation and regulate signals in the hippocampus and cortex — two areas of the brain involved in memory and learning. Phenolic acids are also present in fruit and vegetables especially berries, mango, apples, lemons and limes. It has been postulated that when people age certain proteins in the brain are reduced, and phenolics like those in Champagne can replenish these proteins.
The rats were divided into three groups and liquids were added to their feed - those receiving champagne, another fizzy alcoholic drink or a carbonated soft drink . The rats were given 1.8ml per kilogram of body weight, the human equivalent would be around one and a half glasses a week.
Over six weeks, researchers measured the rats’ ability to get through a maze to locate a treat and found that the champagne drinking rats were significantly better at the task.
When the rats’ brains were examined under a microscope, those who had drunk champagne showed increased amounts of proteins that stimulate the formation of nerve-cell networks and are involved in memory and learning. In particular, these rats had more of a protein called dystrophin in the hippocampus region of the brain, which may protect against loss of reasoning and spatial memory.
Professor Jeremy Spencer, Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, said: "These exciting results illustrate for the first time that the moderate consumption of champagne has the potential to influence cognitive functioning, such as memory. Such observations have previously been reported with red wine, through the actions of flavonoids contained within it. However, our research shows that champagne, which lacks flavonoids, is also capable of influencing brain function through the actions of smaller phenolic compounds, previously thought to lack biological activity. We encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, and our results suggest that a very low intake of one to two glasses a week can be effective."
Dr. David Vauzour, the researcher on the study, added: "in the near future we will be looking to translate these findings into humans. This has been achieved successfully with other polyphenol-rich foods, such as blueberry and cocoa, and we predict similar outcomes for moderate Champagne intake on cognition in humans."
Despite Professor Spencer's dramatic statements, this study was in rats only so all the noise on social media was just good PR, very interesting but not definitive. Rats and humans are very different when it comes to brain chemistry. Though the evidence for the benefits of Champagne in preventing dementia may be a little slim right now, given the lack of human clinical trials, there is strong evidence to suggest that adopting some of the following may reduce your risk.
- Moderate consumption of alcohol, but not necessarily Champagne
- Brain training - playing games which exercise reasoning and memory skills could have major benefits for older people
- An all-round healthy lifestyle including regular exercise, no smoking, maintain a good weight
- Vitamin E