Since the beginning of time, we have tried to find ways that alcohol could be a part of a healthy diet. As a certified brain health coach, I hate to be the one to say this, but alcohol is not health-promoting. Although alcohol contains a beneficial compound, called resveratrol, you would have to consume a very unhealthy amount of red wine to receive an adequate amount of it. Where instead, you can just take a supplement of resveratrol.
Now, let's talk about what alcohol actually does to the brain. For starters, alcohol can significantly reduce blood flow to the brain. When we have proper blood flow, we optimize our oxygen and nutrient delivery. We also optimize our brain's glymphatic system (ie. cellular waste removal system) that is most active at night. How do we confirm that alcohol reduces blood flow to the brain? As a certified brain health coach, I review and analyze SPECT scans (ie. brain scans) that show blood flow, and two of the biggest culprits in reducing blood flow to the brain are alcohol and THC.
Alcohol also reduces the quality of our sleep. Sleep is essential to brain health. During sleep, we store memories, and our brain's cellular clean-up occurs, which is crucial for clearing out “plaques” that can lead to neurodegenerative disorders later on. If we decrease the quality of our sleep with alcohol consumption, our brains will suffer. Many think that alcohol helps them sleep. Alcohol can help you initially fall asleep, but it will disrupt your deep stages of sleep (ie. deep and REM) and keep your brain from achieving the restoration it needs.
Research also suggests that long-term alcohol consumption of more than one drink per day can lead to neurodegeneration, ranging from poor message signaling to full-on cell death. Alcohol can also cause damage to the blood-brain barrier, making it more permeable.
So, do we have to cut out alcohol completely? Well, that depends. If you want to go by the book for health optimization, I recommend cutting it out entirely or significantly reducing your consumption. The good news is that if we primarily practice brain-healthy habits, we can enjoy a glass of wine or two now and then with significantly less impact than if we are not leading a brain-healthy lifestyle. In the case that you do choose to partake in alcohol consumption from time to time, I recommend organic and biodynamic red wine, which will ensure that your libation is free from toxic coloring and additives that are often used in conventional wines. I recommend skipping hard liquor and beer altogether.