Does champagne prevent dementia?

Champagne vs. dementia

Another silly headline in the news. This time three glasses of champagne prevents dementia. Does it really? I think you will probably already know the answer. But let’s take a little look nonetheless!

Alcohol and health headlines

These health headlines follow a usual pattern: something nice prevents something nasty (the opposite one is something nice causing something nasty, usually cancer). It’s easy to see why they are so popular. Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat and drink whatever we wanted, do whatever we wanted, and by doing so prevent illness, stay thin and healthy, and bring about world peace as well. Sadly, that isn’t quite how things usually work out.

Alcohol and health headlines are a particularly popular type of these stories. You know the ones: red wine is good for your heart, beer gives you all the vitamin B you’ll ever need. The latest entry was last week’s widely reported “three glasses of champagne prevents dementia”. There was some confusion about the details: was it three glasses per day or per week, but never mind. Why spoil a great scoop?

Alcohol drink or a non-alcoholic drink

Ok, let’s get to those details and look at the evidence. Thanks to NHS’s excellent Behind the Headlines blog, I can tell you where the story came from: 24 rats running around in a maze for six weeks, in 2013. Yes, the 8 rats who had been given small amounts of champagne were a little better than the others in finding their way around the maze, and their brains contained larger amounts of some “good” proteins (the other rats were given either another alcohol drink or a non-alcoholic drink). This is thought be due to a higher intake of flavonoids, which are indeed found in some wines. But – you can also get plenty of them from many foodstuffs, for example grapes, parsley, peanuts and blueberries.

So there are many leaps needed to get from this study on a few rats in a laboratory to claiming that three glasses of champange prevents dementia. By the way, even the “three glasses” bit seems to have been made up. In the study, the amount of bubby the rats were given was “roughly equivalent to 1.3 125ml glasses of champagne a week for humans”. Better not buy a magnum then.

There is lots more fun detail in the Behind the Headlines post. Including this wonderfully dry conclusion by the NHS experts: “A slightly improved maze performance in a small number of rats does not necessarily translate into humans having a reduced risk of dementia from drinking champagne.”

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