Can Drinking Small Amounts Of Alcohol Benefit the Brain ?

Image of a brain picked out in orange on a black background. View from side and top. alcohol could benefit brain.
Image by dream designs, c/o
  • According to new research, there is evidence that drinking a small amount of alcohol does the brain more good than harm.

Chronic alcoholism brought about by excessive alcohol consumption is a substantive and common-place problem for many. There is however another message where lower levels of consumption produce reduced risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The latest findings on drinking small amounts of alcohol now consider benefits for the brain. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have published recent findings on this in an on-line study for Scientific Reports.

The overriding conclusion is that very low levels of alcohol consumption appear to reduce or dampen the effects of inflammation and help the brain to remove toxins. The type of toxins under discussion are protein fragments like tau which are heavily implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

The study examined the glymphatic system. The system is unique to the brain because cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is ‘pumped’ around the brain’s tissues to remove toxins and other unwanted chemicals. Toxins include beta amyloid and tau which are proteins associated with a number of neuro-cognitive diseases.

Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at URMC and lead author of the study has stated:-

“Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system. “However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health; namely it improves the brain’s ability to remove waste.”

The study examined acute and chronic alcohol exposure in mice and how it affected them. A number of brain scans were taken to show what effect alcohol had on the brain. If the mice received large amounts over time, then as expected they showed high levels of inflammation in their brains based on measurement of markers. The effects was particularly evident in those cells that manage and regulate the glymphatic system.

Animals receiving much lower levels of alcohol which equated two roughly two and a half drinks per day demonstrated less inflammation in their brain than mice not exposed to any alcohol. Those mice who were receiving small amounts also had more effective glymphatic systems because it was allowing cerebrospinal fluid to move more easily and remove waste materials too.

Nedergaard speculated on future findings:-

“Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline. This study may help explain why this occurs. Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health.”


Lundgaard, I., Wang, W., Eberhardt, A.,….Nedergaard, M. (2018) Beneficial effects of low alcohol exposure, but adverse effects of high alcohol intake on glymphatic function. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 2246 doi:10.1038/s41598-018-20424-y (Article)

Visited 27 times, 1 visit(s) today

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.