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New large and well designed study helps resolve confusion about the health benefits of alcohol and wine with up to 25% cut in heart disease and mortality risk

Femme Fatale beautiful lady drinking wine

The whole issue of whether drinking a glass or two of wine a day is good or bad for you has raged in the health community for years. One study seems to say one thing, then another comes out and is contradictory. Some researchers have dismissed some studies because drink companies have fully or partially funded them, though in many cases there observations are perfectly valid. In the face of this ambiguity, some health bodies have advocated strict and low limits on weekly drinking e.g. UK 14 units per week in both men and women.

For years, moderate drinking was linked to many health benefits, including a lowered risk of developing heart disease and longer life expectancy. But more recently, these assumptions were been called into question by a 2016 meta-analysis of 87 long-term studies which concluded that many of these health benefits could be explained by apparent flaws in study design. Some studies compared moderate drinkers to current abstainers, this "sick quitter"  group included former heavy drinkers and those who were tee-totallers because of health conditions. After correcting for these factors, the study’s authors found no evidence that moderate drinking had protective health benefits in most groups.

However, the study was criticised because the number of studies with design flaws was relatively low and trying to extrapolotate data from this relatively low number of sick quitters was like trying to slice a tiny piece of salami with a blunt knife. 

So it was concluded in the health community that more analysis is needed on the long term effects of alcohol consumption and health and in the meantime they advocated caution especially as alcohol is linked with raising the risk of some cancers e.g. breast (relative risk higher by 8%, but moderate exercise reduces relative risk by 15%). Doesn't sound like too much fun.

healthy and happy.jpeg

In mid-August 2017, a new and large study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, "Relationship of Alcohol Consumption to All-Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer-Related Mortality in U.S. Adults" by Bo Xi, Sreenivas P. et al.

The study in 333,247 people found that light-to-moderate drinkers (less than 14 drinks in men and 7 drinks in women) did have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Individuals were followed between 1997 and 2009 and around 34,000 died sometime during this period. Throughout the length of the study, 34,754 participants died from all-causes. Of these, 8,947 deaths were cardiovascular disease-specific (6,944 heart disease-related and 2,003 cerebrovascular-related deaths) and 8,427 mortalities were cancer-specific.

The results of the study showed that men and women who were moderate drinkers had a 13 percent and 25 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality, and 21 and 34 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, respectively.

Men who are heavy drinkers have a 25 percent increased risk of mortality due to all-causes and a 67 percent increase in mortality from cancer; however, these results were not significant in women. There were similar findings for light drinking for both men and women.

This is the key point. Bo Xi and his team were careful to address the supposed flaws in previous studies on alcohol and health. So the non-drinker group only included lifetime nondrinkers, so "sick quitters",  former heavy drinkers and those who gave up alcohol because they got sick were excluded.

The paper also controls for smoking, Body Mass Index (BMI) and physical activity, Some academics still believe that total lifetime abstainers are rare and could share other, unforeseen traits that impact their health, whereas moderate drinkers might have an overall healthier lifestyle. Causation is almost impossible to identify and this will always be a flaw.

But this new observational study tries its hardest to be large, well designed and lasted for 12 years.

Dr. Sreenivas Veeranki, one of the study’s authors said “Our conclusions definitively show there is a J relationship” between drinking and heart health(as alcohol consumption goes up, at first the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease decreases slightly—the bottom of the J—before increasing once intake exceeds around 10 drinks per week) The curve illustrates “moderate drinking has a protective effect, while heavy drinking or binge drinking is harmful.”

The authors concluded "Light and moderate alcohol intake might have a protective effect on all-cause and CVD-specific mortality in U.S. adults. Heavy or binge drinking was associated with increased risk of all-cause and cancer-specific mortality."

Link to full paper

Clinical paper abstract

Relationship of Alcohol Consumption to All-Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer-Related Mortalityin U.S. Adults.

Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Aug 22;70(8):913-922. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.06.054.

Xi B, Veeranki SP, Zhao M, Ma C, Yan Y, Mi J.

BACKGROUND:

Previous studies have revealed inconsistent findings regarding the association of light to moderate alcohol consumption with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer mortality.

OBJECTIVES:

The aim of this study was to examine the association between alcohol consumption and risk of mortality from all causes, cancer, and CVD in U.S. adults.

METHODS:

Data were obtained by linking 13 waves of the National Health Interview Surveys (1997 to 2009) to the National Death Index records through December 31, 2011. A total of 333,247 participants ≥18 years of age were included. Self-reported alcohol consumptionpatterns were categorized into 6 groups: lifetime abstainers; lifetime infrequent drinkers; former drinkers; and current light, moderate, or heavy drinkers. Secondary exposure included participants' binge-drinking status. The main outcome was all-cause, cancer, or CVD mortality.

RESULTS:

After a median follow-up of 8.2 years (2.7 million person-years), 34,754 participants died of all causes (including 8,947 CVD deaths and 8,427 cancer deaths). Compared with lifetime abstainers, those who were light or moderate alcohol consumers were at a reduced risk of mortality for all causes (light-hazard ratio [HR]: 0.79; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.76 to 0.82; moderate-HR: 0.78; 95% CI: 0.74 to 0.82) and CVD (light-HR: 0.74; 95% CI: 0.69 to 0.80; moderate-HR: 0.71; 95% CI: 0.64 to 0.78), respectively. In contrast, there was a significantly increased risk of mortality for all causes (HR: 1.11; 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.19) and cancer (HR: 1.27; 95% CI: 1.13 to 1.42) in adultswith heavy alcohol consumption. Binge drinking ≥1 d/week was also associated with an increased risk of mortality for all causes (HR: 1.13; 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.23) and cancer (HR: 1.22; 95% CI: 1.05 to 1.41).

CONCLUSIONS:

Light and moderate alcohol intake might have a protective effect on all-cause and CVD-specific mortality in U.S. adults. Heavy or binge drinking was associated with increased risk of all-cause and cancer-specific mortality.

The press release from the American College of Cardiology

Men and women who engage in light-to-moderate alcohol consumption have a decreased risk of mortality from all-causes and cardiovascular disease, according to a study published August 14 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Bo Xi, MD, et al., looked at the relationship between all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risks and current alcohol consumption patterns. The researchers used data from 333,247 participants obtained through the National Health Interview Surveys from 1997 to 2009. Alcohol consumption patterns were divided into six categories: lifetime abstainers, lifetime infrequent drinkers, former drinkers, and current light (less than three drinks per week), moderate (more than three drinks per week to less than 14 drinks per week for men or less than seven drinks per week for women) or heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week for men or seven drinks per week for women).

Throughout the length of the study, 34,754 participants died from all-causes. Of these, 8,947 deaths were cardiovascular disease-specific (6,944 heart disease-related and 2,003 cerebrovascular-related deaths) and 8,427 mortalities were cancer-specific.

The results of the study showed that men who are heavy drinkers have a 25 percent increased risk of mortality due to all-causes and a 67 percent increase in mortality from cancer; however, these results were not significant in women. Men and women who engaged in moderate drinking had a 13 percent and 25 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality, and 21 and 34 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, respectively. There were similar findings for light drinking for both men and women.

Light-to-moderate drinking may have protective factors for either all-cause or cardiovascular disease mortality, write the authors. To decrease all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risks, the researchers emphasize that a balance needs to be considered when looking at individual patient recommendations, however reducing high alcohol consumption is necessary.

In an accompanying editorial, Giovanni de Gaetano, MD, PhD, said that while younger adults should not expect considerable benefit from moderate drinking, "for most older persons, the overall benefits of light drinking, especially the reduced cardiovascular disease risk, clearly outweigh possible cancer risk." He concluded by noting that those who do not drink should not start, but rather focus on adopting a healthy lifestyle surrounding "regular physical activity, no smoking, weight control and dietary habits."

Is Milk Thistle beneficial to your liver if you drink too much alcohol?

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About Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (silymarin) is a dietary supplement traditionally used to treat and prevent damage to the liver. There has been some research of mixed quality to assess the potential of Milk Thistle in treating and preventing liver damage from alcohol and from other causes which have shown a very positive potential benefit. However it is clear more robust, placebo controlled clinical studies involving human volunteers are needed.

What is Milk Thistle or Silybum marianum?

Milk Thistle or Silybum marianum as it is known in more technical botanical circles, is an annual or biannual plant of the Asteraceae family. This fairly typical thistle is a thorny plant, has red to purple flowers and shiny pale green leaves with white veins. The medical parts of the plant are the ripe seeds not the leaves. 

The flower heads are 4 to 12 cm long and wide, of red-purple colour. They flower from June to August in the North or December to February in the Southern Hemisphere (Summer through Autumn).  

Thistle is an old English word and Milk Thistle gets its name from the milky sap that comes out of the leaves when they are broken. The leaves also have unique white markings that, according to legend, were the Virgin Mary’s milk. Thistles describe a a large family of plants occurring in Europe and Asia under the botanical groups Carduus, Carlina, Onopordon and Carbenia, or Cnicus.

Many people get confused with all the different, very similar sounding names. Milk Thistle is often called Blessed Milk Thistle, Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Saint Mary's Thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, Variegated Thistle and Scotch thistle. However, Milk thistle should not be confused with Holy or Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus) and the Scotch Thistle (Onopordum acanthium), it is a different species with different medicinal properties. Whereas Holy Thistle cannot be eaten, Scotch Thistle and Milk Thistle are edible and used by foragers as ‘bush food’.

The Silybum species as a whole is native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; and the most widespread species is Silybum marianum.  The plants in Silybum group include:

  • Silybum eburneum Coss. & Dur., known as the Silver Milk Thistle, Elephant Thistle, or Ivory Thistle (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain)
  • Silybum eburneum Coss. & Dur. var. hispanicum
  • Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner

Where does Milk Thistle grow and naturally found?

Originally a native of Southern Europe, Silybum marianum was probably first found around the coast of southeast England (perhaps brought by the Romans) or from the mountains of the Mediterranean region. It is now found throughout the world including the United States, North, Australia and New Zealand where it is considered a weed.

Milk Thistle is grown by the pharmaceutical and herbal supplements industry in areas such as Waldviertel in Austria, Germany (Milk Thistle is called Mariendistel in German), Hungary, Poland, Argentina and China.

In Europe it is sown yearly in March–April. The harvest in two steps (cutting and threshing) takes place in August, about 2–3 weeks after the flowering.

milk thistle in field

Milk Thistle extract and its chemistry

Traditional milk thistle extract is made from the seeds, which contain approximately 4–6% silymarin. The extract consists of about 65–80% silymarin (a flavonolignan complex) and 20–35% fatty acids, including linoleic acid.

Silymarin is a complex mixture of polyphenolic molecules, including seven closely related flavonolignans (silybin A, silybin B, isosilybin A, isosilybin B, silychristin, isosilychristin, silydianin) and one flavonoid (taxifolin). 

Origins of Medicinal use of Milk Thistle and use as Liver Tonics and Liver Detoxifiers

Silymarin marianum has been used by humans probably for thousands of years for its medicinal effects. The liver protective effects, for example, were known and written about in ancient times in Roman and Greek texts.  It is possible that as a whole  the plant has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-parasitic action. 

liver

The liver has a wide range of functions in the human body and we cannot live without it functioning properly. Lobules are the functional units of the liver and each lobule is made up of millions of hepatic cells (hepatocytes) which are the basic metabolic cells. It is pivotal in the detoxification of various metabolic by products of food, protein synthesis, and the production of biochemicals necessary for digestion. It also plays a role in metabolism, regulation of glycogen (energy related) storage, decomposition of red blood cells and hormone production. So your liver is a pretty important organ!

Therefore it is not surprising that any drug which helps the liver to cleanse more effectively can be useful in treating liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation) and jaundice. Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver does not function properly due to long-term damage with scarring. Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by alcohol or the viruses hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Jaundice is the medical term that describes yellowing of the skin and eyes caused when there is too much bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is formed by the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. Normally, the liver gets rid of bilirubin along with old red blood cells.

For many centuries extracts of milk thistle were used  as "liver tonics"  used to treat alcohol and toxin related liver damage.  The plant was even used for the prevention of severe liver damage from the accidental eating of Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) in days gone by .

The plant also appears to have some ability to remove toxins. The physician Wiliam Westmacott, writing in 1694 in "The education of a puritan Country Physician" said of Milk Thistle: 'It is a Friend to the Liver and Blood” .

Traditionally it was has also been used as a hangover cure (and some swear by its effectivensss here)and is still used in traditional Chinese medicine to “clear heat and relieve toxic material”, to soothe the liver and to promote bile flow.  

These anecdotal medicinal properties led to research being conducted by German scientists beginning in the 1950's to assess its active chemical, pharmacological, and safety leading to the commercial growing of the plant for pharmaceutical purposes. 

Dosage of Milk Thistle

In clinical trials silymarin has typically been administered in amounts ranging from 420–480 mg per day in two to three divided doses. However higher doses have been studied, such as 600 mg daily in the treatment of type II diabetes and 600 or 1200 mg daily in patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus.

An optimal dosage for milk thistle preparations has not been established. 

Clinical efficacy of Milk Thistle - does Milk Thistle work and is it safe? Does it harm the liver?

At recommended doses:

  • Does Milk Thistle work - Yes
  • Is Milk Thistle safe - Yes
  • Does Milk Thistle harm the liver - No
  • Does Milk Thistle have harmful side effects - No

A thorough review of the literature on milk thistle current to the year 2000 can be found at Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects whose link is located below:

This review finds that the evidence to date is strongly suggestive that milk thistle helps heal or cleanse the liver, although studies to date are not yet fully conclusive. However, Milk Thistle is very likely not to harm the liver.

A more recent review of the literature can be found in Saller (2008)  "An updated systematic review with meta-analysis for the clinical evidence of silymarin" which concluded, "Based on the available clinical evidence it can be concluded - concerning possible risks /probable benefits - that it is reasonable to employ silymarin as a supportive element in the therapy of Amanita phalloides poisoning but also (alcoholic and grade Child 'A') liver cirrhosis. A consistent research programme, consolidating existing evidence and exploring new potential uses,would be very welcome."

Side effects of Milk Thistle

On the available evidence, which is not exhaustive, Milk Thistle (Silymarin) is likely to be safe for most adults. However, it sometimes causes minor side effects such as a laxative effect. Other less common side effects are nausea, diarrhoea, indigestion, intestinal gas, bloating, fullness or pain, and loss of appetite.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of milk thistle during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Allergy to ragweed and related plants: Milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family. Members of this family include ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and many others. If you have allergies, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking milk thistle.

Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Extracts from Milk Thistle plant might act like oestrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use these extracts. In contrast, the more commonly used milk thistle seed extracts do not seem to act like oestrogen.

Milk Thistle Products

You can buy Milk Thistle in the form of tablets, capsules and drops either as a single ingredient in different strengths or as a combination with other liver cleansing herbs. Popular brands include Natures Aid, Vogel, Solgar and Schwabe.

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Bio Health Silamarie Milk Thistle Capsules 450mg
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Should I take Milk Thistle supplements regularly?

The jury is still out on whether it really works, but Milk Thistle appears to have low toxicity and studies are suggestive of a positive effect on the liver and it having a protective effect against excessive drinking of alcohol. The benefits therefore seem to outweigh any very limited risks. The editor of the Fermented Grape uses Milk Thistle personally, but do your own research before taking this supplement and if in doubt talk to your doctor. They could be associated with a placebo effect, but the evidence suggests not. 

Using Dandelion root with Milk Thistle

 Dandelion Root

Dandelion Root

In addition to Milk Thistle other herbs and vitamins are said to help the liver cleanse itself. Antioxidant vitamins such as C, E, and beta-carotene; minerals such as zinc and selenium; B-vitamins that aid alcohol metabolism. Dandelion root and schizandra are traditionally held to have liver cleansing actions.

About the author

This article is written by Richard Norton, trained in Pharmacy and working in the healthcare industry since 1994. He has no affiliation with any Milk Thistle or herbal supplements company and views are his own, not his employer, based on the available evidence.

References

Lawrence V, Jacobs B, Dennehy C, et al. (2000) Milk thistle: effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 21. AHRQ Publication No. 01-E025. Rockville, MD. 

Rainone F. (2005).Milk thistle. Am Fam Physician. 72(7), 1285-8. 

Saller R, Brignoli R, Melzer J, Meier R. (2008). An updated systematic review with meta-analysis for the clinical evidence of silymarin. Forsch Komplementmed. 15(1), 9-20. 

Tamayo C, Diamond S. (2007). Review of clinical trials evaluating safety and efficacy of milk thistle (Silybum marianum [L.] Gaertn.). Integr Cancer Ther. 6(2), 146-57. 

Fake news alert: Express "Bowel and gullet cancer: Just two beers or glasses of wine raises your risk"

Fake news

Fake news alert

Another piece of exaggerated reporting from the British media when it comes to alcohol and cancer. 

On  July 4th, the UK's Express newspaper reported that "Bowel and gullet cancer: Just two beers or glasses of wine 'raises your risk'" - TWO beers or glasses of wine a day raises the risk of bowel and gullet cancer by more than a fifth, according to new research

Reporting that:

Britons down an average of 2.1 drinks daily, placing them among the most vulnerable to two of the deadliest forms of the disease. And anyone having four or more drinks a day is at increased risk of liver, gastric and pancreatic cancer three more particularly lethal types.

The five cancers are the most common digestive cancers across the world, causing almost three million deaths a year, says the report by medical group United European Gastroenterology.

“Heavy” drinkers who get through more than four daily were more likely to develop pancreatic, liver and gastric cancer.

Drinking across the region is higher than in any other area in the world, with over one fifth of the European population over the age of 15 drinking heavily at least once a week. As a result, the continent suffers from the highest proportion of ill health and premature death directly linked to alcohol.

So what are the facts about Bowel and gullet cancer and alcohol?

When you do drink moderate amounts of alcohol, studies have shown that the risk of some cancers increase, yet others decrease. There is much debate about this but overall the health benefits of moderate alcohol drinking are such that your risk of dying is reduced. See more at:

WCRF Report Alcohol and risk of Colorectal Cancer

The most recent WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) report states that "The evidence that consumption of alcohol of more than 30g/day of ethanol from alcoholic drinks is a cause of colorectal cancer in men is convincing, and probably also in women."

So when you read the summary the WCRF seems damning, but the devil is in the detail and things aren't what they seem at first read! It is a very mixed picture.

A wine at 12.5 % vol contains 12.5ml of alcohol/100ml of wine x 0.8 g/ml = 10g of alcohol/100 ml of wine. So 30g is 300ml, around half a bottle a day (A drinking unit can vary from 8-14g of alcohol depending on the country). For example, 125 ml of wine (12.5% vol), will translate into 1.25 drinking units and 175ml of wine (12.5% vol), will translate into 1.75 drinking units.

Your lifetime Risk of Developing colon and rectum cancer is approximately 4.3 percent of men and women (diagnosed with  at some point during their lifetime, based on 2012-2014 data).

Relative risk, your additional chance of getting bowel cancer, has been reported as follows and summarised by the WCRF in their report. If relative risk is 1.25, your lifetime risk is 5.4%. If relative risk is 1 your lifetime risk is unchanged at 4.3%.

Kato 1999 (1 = no additional risk), Ford 1997 (0.97 =slightly reduced risk, Schoen 1999 (1.24 = 24% higher chance), Chen 2001 (1.26), Flood 2002 (1.02 = no increased risk), Pedersen 2003 (1.0).

The summary estimate is 1.01 according to WCRF= no increased risk of colorectal cancer with Alcohol! 

Somewhat different to the summary, "The evidence that consumption of alcohol of more than 30g/day of ethanol from alcoholic drinks is a cause of colorectal cancer in men is convincing, and probably also in women." Hardly convincing evidence of increased risk. I would say no risk increased risk based on the data!

Summary: Is it true Bowel and gullet cancer: Just two beers or glasses of wine 'raises your risk'?

The most respected cancer reporting charity the WCRF has concluded that the the relative risk is the same for drinkers as non drinkers. So the Express newspapers claims that "just two beers or glasses of wine raises your risk" is untrue. Fake news! 

Further information: Detailed summary of bowel cancer studies

See more at: 

Cho et al in 2004 in their paper "Alcohol intake and colorectal cancer: a pooled analysis of 8 cohort studies" saw that "In categorical analyses, increased risk for colorectal cancer was limited to persons with an alcohol intake of 30 g/d or greater (approximately > or =2 drinks/d), a consumption level reported by 4% of women and 13% of men. "

In 2007, Ferrari et al reported on the link between rectal and colon cancers in Europe concluding that "In this large European cohort, both lifetime and baseline alcohol consumption increase colon and rectum cancer risk, with more apparent risk increases for alcohol intakes greater than 30 g/day."

The 2009 Park JY et al with participants from Norfolk concluded that "Total alcohol consumption was not associated with CRC risk before or after adjustment for age, sex, weight, height, and smoking status . No significant associations were observed between consumption of specific alcoholic beverages (beer, sherry, or spirits) and CRC risk when compared with non-drinkers after adjustment for lifestyle and dietary factors. Daily consumption of > or =1 unit of wine appeared inversely related to CRC risk (HR: 0.61, 95% CI: 0.40-0.94). No evidence was found for sex-specific relationships, and further exclusion of cases incident within 3 years of baseline did not change the associations observed. In this population-based UK cohort, we did not find any significant adverse effect of alcohol over the moderate range of intake on colorectal cancer risk.". So a 40% lower risk with daily consumption of wine!

In the 2010 UK study by Park et al, which looked at alcohol intake and risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) concluded that "No clear associations were observed between site-specific CRC risk and alcohol intake in either sex. " (up to 30g/day).

Hjartaker et al in 2013 looked at "subsite specific dietary risk factors for Colorectal cancer: A review of cohort studies" . The paper stated that "Ten articles were included in the review. Three analyses for both sexes combined consistently showed a higher risk of rectal cancer with increasing alcohol consumption and no significant associations for any of the colon subsites . In the EPIC studyan increased risk was reported both for rectal and distal colon cancer, whereas in the UK dietary cohort consortium (part of which is included in the EPIC study) a significantly increased risk was found for distal colon cancer only."

Can drinking Champagne really stop you getting Dementia and Alzheimers disease?

champagne in glasses

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. 

rat in a maze

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

Professor Jeremy Spencer

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

Should you be worried about drinking wine if you have allergies like Hayfever?

Studies have shows that symptoms of intolerance in drinkers were more frequently reported after drinking red wine than white wine. Wine contains small amounts of proteins, which mainly come from grapes but can also be introduced by bacteria and yeast.

One of the proteins found in wine is the lipid transfer protein (LTP), which has been shown to come from grapes and is a recognised allergen. It is found on grape skins and in the must during the fermentation of red wine. LTP can sometimes lead to serious symptoms such as anaphylaxis. However, it has been shown that drinking wine on a regular basis can lead to the development of tolerance to LTP and reduce the risks. In contrast, the must used to produce white wine is fermented without grape skins. This may explain why red wine causes more intolerance symptoms more frequently than white wine.

Other proteins that have also been discussed as potential allergens, such as thaumatin-like proteins, endochitinases, and glucanases, are present in equal amounts in red and white wine.

In addition to these allergens, other ingredients or chemicals involved in wine production, such as sulfites or the biogenic amines of histamine and tyramine, may also cause reactions. 

It is proposed that the mechanism of general intolerance to wine could be as a result of the following:

  • polar and hydrophobic ingredients in wine could be dissolved in alcohol, thereby promoting their absorption into the body;
  • alcohol promotes the permeability of the intestinal mucosa, which could increase the absorption of wine ingredients;
  • alcohol-induced vasodilation could also be responsible for some symptoms of wine intolerance, such as skin flushing;
  • alcohol inhibits the enzyme diaminooxidase, which degrades histamine and other biogenic amines. This would increase histamine concentrations and could lead to symptoms such as vascular dilation in the nose region

In the Mainz study 2012, only 3 out of 30 participants with self-reported wine intolerance and 6 out of the total of 68 wine-intolerant individuals identified in the study additionally reported grape intolerance, supports the assumption that wine intolerance is very rarely caused by true allergy to grapes.

See more at: