Taking care of our brain health becomes increasingly important as we age. It’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans are suffering with Alzheimer’s dementia, and that the condition is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. However, there are a number of ways we can help keep our brains functioning optimally — our diet and lifestyle habits can drastically affect our risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Most recently, a study on binge drinking revealed that consuming too much alcohol could not only cause an early onset of Alzheimer’s, but also lead to more severe symptoms of the disease.
A growing body of research has shown that excessive alcohol consumption could increase your risk of Alzheimer’s, as alcohol has shown to be toxic to the brain. In the most recent study, a team of scientists from Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York have more specifically identified how binge drinking can cause the alteration of a normal brain protein into a neurotoxin that is prevalent in Alzheimer’s disease.
The protein, called “tau,” typically contributes to the stabilization of neurons in the brain. However, the researchers investigated how binge drinking causes tau to become phosphorylated, turning it into a toxin which causes brain cell death.
“It has been reported that alcohol consumption correlates with Alzheimer’s-like cortical atrophy in individuals at high risk of developing the disease as well as younger age of onset. In addition, chronic alcohol exposure caused neural tau phosphorylation in the hippocampus and memory-impairment in Alzheimer’s-predisposed mice,” Dr. Max Brenner, one of the researchers from the study, said in a press release.
The team set out to identify how binge drinking leads to the proliferation of tau, and they found that it’s because of a specific protein called extracellular cold-inducible RNA-binding protein (eCIRP). Brenner explains, “when cells detect potentially harmful conditions, such as alcohol exposure, they release molecules like eCIRP to alert other cells nearby to start preparing their defenses to overcome the stress conditions.” So, the researchers suggest that when a person consumes a lot of alcohol, eCIRP is released to combat the stress. However, that protein then causes tau to become a toxin that causes neuroinflammation and brain cell death, leading to the earlier — and more severe — onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
How much is too much?
So how much is too much when it comes to alcohol? Generally, drinking to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% is considered binge drinking. For women, that’s generally about two drinks or more per hour, though this number can vary depending on factors like your weight and age. Surprising, right? Remember these numbers the next time your pouring yourself a generous glass of wine!
The information provided in this study furthers our knowledge about how what we consume can affect our brain health. As the research shows, cutting back on alcohol is one of the best ways we can ensure that our brains stay healthy and happy as we get older. For a few more ways you can reduce your risk, check out this article!