The #1 Health Myth You Still Believe About Red Wine … But Shouldn’t
Nothing’s better than hearing that the delicious foods we’re already eating also have some pretty big health benefits. (Case in point: dark chocolate and avocados.) So it’s not surprising that the media lit up recently with the exciting news that drinking red wine could be beneficial to our brains.
A study had found that resveratrol — an antioxidant found in red wine —could help slow Alzheimer’s disease. It was suggested that if resveratrol can slow Alzheimer’s, and resveratrol is in red wine, then consuming red wine must also ease the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, that logic just doesn’t work. The reality is that consuming wine in all but the most moderate doses (that’s one glass a day for women, and two for men) will most likely increase the risk of dementia.
What Actually Happens In Your Body When You Drink Wine
So how could consuming too much alcohol be linked to dementia? That’s due to a number of factors, including the inflammatory effects, the sugar load, and the toxin demands on the liver.
In fact, as a doctor of internal medicine, I show my patients a picture of a wineglass full of sugar and tell them to imagine this every time they look at a third glass of wine (or beer or liquor). Of course, there isn’t that much sugar in wine, but from a health perspective, that drink is a glass of inflammation.
Here’s how it works: The first inflammatory effect is on the microflora of the gut, where excessive alcohol consumption causes an increase in lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which mimics infection and triggers an immune response. Excessive LPS also hobbles the communication between organs, exacerbating the effect of alcohol on other parts of the body and ultimatelyincreasing the permeability of the gut, as well as the permeability of the blood brain barrier — an emerging factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The second inflammatory effect of consuming too much wine is when it reaches the intestine and is absorbed as nutrition for processing by the liver. This is where healthy carbohydrates are transformed into glycogen by the liver’s packaging department and then stored or sent to the muscles for storage to be burned as needed.
Unfortunately, the sugar in wine, beer, white bread. and soda hits the liver in such a fast-burning stampede that the liver is overloaded. As a result, it sends it off to the body as raw sugar in the blood, or converts it directly into hard-to-burn fat. Our metabolic process is simply not optimized to handle fast-burning sugars.
And research shows that overall, inflammation creates conditions that increase the risk of cancer, depression, dementia, and heart disease.
Then there are the toxins in the alcohol itself. Your liver is an incredible machine. It protects us from vast amounts of environmental toxins, but its capacity is limited. If you increase the demands on your liver, your liver will age faster. Studies have shown that the biological age of a person’s organs can be more than a decade older or younger than the person’s calendar age. As your organs age, their ability to protect your body and brain deteriorates.
As our organ’s capabilities decline, there is increased damage caused by environmental toxins, increased inflammation, and further reduced organ reserve. It’s a deadly cycle.
The Bottom Line
When you drink wine and other sugary drinks, you increase your internal inflammation and reduce your body’s ability to process future toxins. We don’t yet know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, but chronic inflammation and toxin exposure are high on the list.
In fact, the link between dementia and alcohol is strong enough that Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recently amended their guidelines for dementia prevention to encourage people to reduce the amount they drink as much as possible.
And as far as that recent study goes? While resveratrol is a great molecule in the test tube, you’d need to drink 1,000 bottles of wine in a day to get a therapeutic dose. Riding a bike for an hour a day will do far more to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s — and it has the added benefit of making you feel and look great.
So go ahead and enjoy that first glass. But any more than that, and the damage of drinking wine will far outweigh the benefit of a sprinkle of resveratrol.
Mark Menolascino MD, MS, ABIHM, ABAARM, IFMCP
Originally published in Mind Body Green, November 2015.