Monday, November 9, 2015

No, A Study Did NOT Say 3 Glasses Of Champagne A Day Will Reduce Alzheimer's

Beautiful autumn colour on the University of Reading's Whiteknights Campus. © University of Reading

I turned on my computer this morning to find my social media streams flooded with headlines like:

  • Reading study says people can improve health by drinking three glasses of champagne a day.
  • Three glasses of ‪‎champagne‬ a day keeps the dementia away?
Now, as you can imagine, the jokes are flying and, I'm happy to say, the headlines have been met mostly with a healthy (and appropriate) dose of skepticism. But I thought it would be fun to revisit this study, which was actually published 2.5 years ago, and see what it really had to say about sparkling wine and dementia diseases like Alzheimer's.

Back in May of 2013, researchers at Reading University in the UK announced that they were publishing research suggesting that 3 glasses of champagne a week could, potentially, delay the onset of dementia and some other brain diseases. Sparkling wine could also, they said, improve the memories of people already suffering the effects of degenerative brain disease.

The scientists behind this study mainly credited a family of chemical compounds known as phenols, which have long been linked to better health, for their positive results. All wines--sparkling or otherwise--have some phenol content but sparkling white wines are typically made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes. And those particular grapes just happen to be especially rich in memory-protective phenolic compounds.

The study was so promising that when the university announced the research, the scientist who oversaw the study, Jeremy Spencer, actually said this: "We encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, and our results suggest that a very low intake of one to two glasses a week can be effective."

This was not the team's first (or last) study on the potential health benefits of phenols. Previously, they looked at sparkling wine as a possible preventative for stroke. More recently, Spencer was involved in research on another degenerative brain disease--Parkinson's.

So even if the scientists aren't giving us license to indulge in the bubbly every day, is there evidence that alcohol could actually be harmful to Alzheimer's and other dementia patients? As a matter of fact, very heavy alcohol use is absolutely considered a predictor for death in dementia sufferers.

So that's the truth behind those headlines you're seeing on Facebook this day. Yes, a real university actually did do a study linking champagne to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. But, contrary to what the rumor mill is saying, the research suggested a "moderate" intake of 3 glasses a week--not 3 glasses a day.

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