Large amounts of alcohol are toxic to the brain, but small amounts appear to be beneficial. In recent studies, people who consumed alcohol in moderation had a reduced rate of Alzheimer's disease compared with people who did not drink at all. The exact mechanism of alcohol's beneficial effect is uncertain. One hypothesis is that alcohol reduces cardiovascular risk factors by altering blood lipids. Another hypothesis is that alcohol stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the hippocampus.
This doesn't mean that you should start drinking if you're opposed to using alcohol; there are many other ways to protect your memory. But if you do drink, holding your alcohol intake to one or two beverages per day could keep your brain healthy.
Korsakoff's syndrome, a disorder marked by sudden, dramatic (and usually permanent) memory loss. Apart from Korsakoff's syndrome, other alcohol-related memory problems are potentially treatable and, in some cases, reversible. Cessation of drinking, maintenance of adequate nutrition, and replenishment of vitamin Bt, if necessary, are the keys to treatment of alcohol-related memory dysfunction.
I advise patients to limit their use of alcohol; one or two drinks a day seems to be a sensible amount for protecting memory and optimizing other health concerns. In terms of alcohol equivalency, one drink equals twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of distilled spirits. This doesn't mean that nondrinkers should start drinking, but this benefit is worth noting if you do drink alcohol.
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