Is Drinking Healthy? Alcohol Helps Clean Toxins From the Brain, Study Shows

A little bit of alcohol might help your brain clean itself, new research published Friday in Scientific Reports suggests. The research was done in mice, so it's impossible to say if the benefit is the same for humans. But still.

We already knew that alcohol has some health benefits, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard told Newsweek. "Except for a few types of cancer, including unfortunately breast cancer, alcohol is good for almost everything," said Nedergaard, the director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Nedergaard has studied the glymphatic system, a recently discovered system that helps clear waste from the body, since 2012. Her team was also responsible for a 2013 paper showing that sleep was necessary for the system to function.

Their latest work found that low amounts of alcohol could help the glymphatic system work better. In the study, mice were given a "low level" of alcohol, the equivalent of two-and-a half-drinks. Compared to mice who were not given the alcohol, the glymphatic systems of the experimental group showed improved function.

But there's more to the study than that, she said. The researchers found that supportive cells of the brain known as glial cells appeared less inflamed among mice given low doses of alcohol compared to controls. "This might be what I'm most surprised about." Nedergaard thinks this mechanism could explain why the mice's glymphatic systems were working better.

Seeing an improvement among the mice given alcohol went against expectations. "Normally, when you do a study, your control mice are the ones who are doing best," Nedergaard explained. "It's hard to improve something that's already healthy," she said. She and her team repeated the experiment a few times to make sure the results turned out the same; they did.

The results are not necessarily an excuse to go for that third glass of wine. "Of course, we cannot say anything about humans because mice are different. They have a much faster metabolism," Nedergaard said. "If anything, it should be a lower amount in humans." Also, mice that were given higher levels of alcohol showed signs that their glymphatic systems were working more poorly.

Alcohol is included in the national dietary guidelines. Studies have shown that moderate drinking can decrease the risk for heart disease and stroke. Researchers at Louisiana State University reiterated that in a study published Thursday that showed antioxidants, like the ones in red wine, may improve stents. However, the number of drinks per day that would make someone a "moderate" drinker may seem disappointing: just one drink for women and two for men. And the new study from Nedergaard and colleagues reinforces that heavy drinking is bad for your health.

To reduce the chance of abusing alcohol, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends women shouldn't have more than seven drinks per week and men shouldn't have more than 14; binge drinking is defined as having more than four or five drinks within a few hours for women and men, respectively.