As the world eagerly looks to combat Alzheimer's disease, recent research has focused heavily on one possible cause for the illness: beta-amyloid peptides. These peptides, which are short chains of amino acids, have been shown to form plaques in the central nervous system, which research indicates may be associated with Alzheimer's development.
But how could we defend against this plaque in our daily lives? A new study from South Korea shows that moderate alcohol consumption could be linked to lower levels of beta-amyloids in the nervous system.
The study, published last month in PLOS Medicine, was conducted by a team of researchers at Seoul National University and several other Korean schools, part of the Korean Brain Aging Study for the Early diagnosis and prediction of Alzheimer's disease. They surveyed and tested 414 individuals recruited in Seoul in 2016, their ages ranging from 56 to 90.
While these subjects showed no dementia or alcohol-related illnesses, approximately one-third had been diagnosed with some degree of "mild cognitive impairment" (a designation largely related to memory problems). Before testing the presence of amyloids in the subjects, they were asked about their average alcohol use. For this study the researchers defined "moderate" alcohol consumption as 1 to 13 standard drinks per week (a standard drink containing 10 grams of alcohol, about two-thirds of a glass of wine). The subjects were also evaluated by neuropsychologists and psychiatrists, and additional lifestyle factors were assessed, including body weight, profession, income and cases of depression.
According to the study's authors, their research was inspired by past studies which indicated links between moderate alcohol use and protection against Alzheimer's. As the researchers explain, previous studies of cell cultures and mice subjects have shown that alcohol may protect against beta-amyloids' toxicity.
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To test for the presence of amyloids in their subjects' brains, the researchers used three different brain imaging scans. They found that "moderate lifetime alcohol intake was significantly associated with lower amyloid deposition compared to no drinking." This conclusion was drawn even after they compensated for the subjects' other lifestyle factors and excluded binge drinkers and former drinkers from the results.
And it wasn't just the abstainers group that moderate drinking beat. The 1 to 13 drinks per week group showed lower levels of beta-amyloid peptides compared with those who drank less than 1 drink per week, those who drank more than 13 drinks per week and abstainers.
None of this means that a sudden burst of red wine will quash Alzheimer's. The study explains that alcohol's potential effects on beta-amyloids are only significant in the long term. The researchers add that this study and its conclusions should be viewed cautiously, especially when considering the relatively small sample size used. And as the study text notes, it relied on subjects' own memories of their alcohol consumption history. Such questionnaires are not always reliable.
Nonetheless, if research continues to point to beta-amyloids as a prime cause of Alzheimer's, this new study might point toward methods for countering the peptide.