Moderate alcohol use ‘could be important for brain health’

Moderate alcohol use can contribute to a diet with better results for memory skills in middle age, research has showed.

The regime also emphasised eating fruit, pulses, vegetables, low-fat dairy and fish and avoiding common unhealthy food.

Claire McEvoy said: "It's possible that moderate alcohol consumption as part of a healthy diet could be important for brain health in middle age, but further research is needed to confirm these findings."

Researchers found that after 30 years of follow-up, people with high adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 46% less likely to have poor thinking and memory skills compared with people with low adherence.

Hangover Helpers
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Hangover Helpers

What's your best bet to steer clear of the blinding headache, nausea, stomach upset, brain fog and fatigue that accompany your hangover post-partying? We have a few pointers that may help.

Choose colorless cocktails. Not all alcohol is created equal, especially when it comes to what kind of a hangover wallop it packs. “Brown alcohol contains something called ‘congeners,’ which are somewhat toxic and difficult for your body to metabolize,” says Cheryl Forberg, R.D., the original nutritionist for The Biggest Loser. Because of these substances, which are created during the fermentation process, dark colored beverages such as tequila, brandy and bourbon seem to contribute to hangovers more than clear alcohol such as gin, vodka or white wine.

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Pick your poison. It’s a no-brainer: The more alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to have a hangover so choosing your cocktail carefully is key. “Beer has less alcohol than wine which has less alcohol than vodka,” explains Susan Blum, M.D., assistant clinical professor of preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and founder of The Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, N.Y. Find out the alcohol content of any drink at

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Go gluten free. “People who are sensitive to gluten will feel worse the next day if they drink beer made from barley or other alcohol fermented from wheat or rye,” says Dr. Blum. If this is you, opt for potato vodka or tequila, which is made from agave. “Also, people sensitive to mold or with mold allergies might feel worse from drinking red wine, because there are lots of mold proteins in the sediment,” adds Blum.

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Forget the fizzy stuff. A small study out of University of Surrey in the U.K. compared the effects of flat and fizzy champagne on the same group of people. Results revealed that participants had higher levels of alcohol in their blood after drinking the fizzy champagne than they did when sipping the flat version of the cocktail. Researchers suspect that carbon dioxide (which is what causes the bubbles) may accelerate the body’s absorption of alcohol.

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Don’t sip on an empty stomach. If you plan to toast to the holiday season with some cocktails, don’t forget to eat both before and while you drink. “In addition to the fact that food in your bloodstream helps ‘dilute’ the alcohol, it also slows down the metabolism of alcohol and its release into the bloodstream,” explains Forberg.

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Have your drinks on the rocks. “Ice waters down your drink, which will help you pace yourself,” says Blum. “This extra water will also help your blood flow through your liver and kidneys and help your body flush out and process the alcohol.” Throughout the night, you should also down a glass of H20 between each alcoholic drink.

Alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated, which is part of the hangover,” explains Blum, who also suggests drinking lots of water before you head out for the night.

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Pop a supplement. Although it’s tempting to reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin or acetaminophen when your head is pounding, over-the-counter pain meds may increase the risk of stomach bleeding, ulcers and liver damage when consumed with booze. Instead, try taking a supplement preventively. “Supplements with the herb milk thistle (also called silymarin) or other liver/detox support supplements will boost your detox system before you go out so that your body processes alcohol more easily,” explains Blum. This reduces your likelihood of a hangover.

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Get hydrated at home. After you come home from a night of drinking, start guzzling water. “Alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrating so it's important to replete your body's fluid loss,” says Forberg. The next day, hydrate your body with any liquids you can stomach such as orange juice, vegetable juices or smoothies to help ease dehydration-induced headaches.

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Nix the nausea. “Nausea can be a problem because it will keep you from drinking all the water that you need,” notes Blum. Quell queasiness with ginger tea or ginger/apple/carrot juice. If you’re really feeling green, stick to bland foods including saltines, pretzels and plain rice, which make good stomach-soothers.

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Get moving. It may be the last thing you feel like doing when the room is spinning, but mild forms of exercise such as taking a walk or gentle jog in fresh air can help you get over a hangover. “Exercise is one of the best ways to clear toxins from the body and feel better,” says Blum. Plus, adds Forberg, “endorphins from exercise can boost your mood, while deep breathing fresh air can help you relax.” Just remember to sip water along the way so you stay hydrated.

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Those with high adherence to a diet emphasising moderate alcohol use and limiting fried food and salty snacks or high-fat dairy were 52% less likely to have poor thinking and memory skills than people with low adherence, the study also showed.

It was published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The lead author was Dr McEvoy, from the university's Institute for Global Food Security, while Kristine Yaffe from the University of California, San Francisco, was senior author.

Dr McEvoy added: "Our findings indicate that maintaining good dietary practices throughout adulthood can help to preserve brain health at midlife."

The study involved 2,621 people from the Cardia (Coronary Artery Risk Development in young Adults) study in the US, who were an average age of 25 at the start and then followed for 30 years.

They were asked about their diet at the beginning of the study and twice again, after seven and 20 years.

Dr McEvoy added: "While we don't yet know the ideal dietary pattern for brain health, changing to a heart-healthy diet could be a relatively easy and effective way to reduce the risk for developing problems with thinking and memory as we age."

The NHS recommends not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

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