A New Study Says Beer May Protect You From Alzheimer's, but There's a Catch

Right now, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and many more are silently undergoing the neurological changes that will someday lead to the condition's onset. According to a new study released last month by the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, this time lag between the start of neurological damage and its eventual diagnosis renders many interventions for AD less effective. Meanwhile, preventative measures—which may help protect the brain long before signs of the disease emerge—may be your best bet in warding off cognitive decline, they say.

Specifically, the study found that one particular type of beer may have brain-boosting benefits which could help ward off Alzheimer's disease. However, the research comes with one major catch, which may make you think twice. Read on to learn what the findings mean for your own drinking habits, and whether the occasional brew could actually be good for you.

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When it comes to Alzheimer's, prevention is key.

While there's no one way to definitively prevent Alzheimer's, experts say there may be several ways to lower your risk. Getting regular physical exercise, quitting smoking, maintaining strong social connections with others, managing underlying conditions such as high blood pressure and blood sugar, and getting adequate sleep are just a few of the strategies medical experts recommend.

Additionally, following a healthy eating plan such as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay—also known as the MIND diet—can lessen your Alzheimer's risk. This particular diet emphasizes minimally processed, plant-based foods while limiting saturated fats, sugars, and animal products.

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Drinking beer may also help protect against Alzheimer's, the study says.

Since a healthy diet is believed to greatly lower one's chances of developing Alzheimer's, experts are now exploring various "nutraceuticals"—foods that improve health or prevent disease—in relation to cognitive decline. In fact, the ACS study says that hop flowers, commonly used to brew bitter beers, may be one such food. That's because certain chemical compounds found within hops appear to prevent the buildup of amyloid beta proteins in the brain—a hallmark feature and possible cause of AD onset.

Having tested four popular types of hops—Cascade, Saaz, Tettnang, and Summit—they found that Tettnang hops were most closely linked with neurological benefits. This particular variety is commonly found in German lagers, ales, and wheat beers.

There's one major catch, the study says.

Before you make beer a regular part of your Alzheimer's prevention strategy, it's important to note that the study looked specifically at the effects of four types of hop extracts, rather than the effects of beer containing those ingredients. Though the researchers extrapolated from their findings that hoppy beers may come with cognitive benefits, the study included no human subjects. The researchers instead tested the chemical compounds on amyloid beta proteins from human nerve cells in lab dishes, and later in C. elegans, a type of roundworm with certain genomic similarities to humans.

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This is the bottom line on alcohol, experts say.

More research is needed to determine whether consuming the occasional hoppy beverage may in fact help prevent Alzheimer's, but one thing's for certain: excessive drinking of alcohol is a well-documented risk factor in cognitive decline. Experts agree that if you do choose to drink alcohol, it's best to limit yourself to the recommended guidelines: no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What's more, experts urge caution when it comes to changing your drinking habits based on the currently available research. "People who do not currently drink alcohol should not be encouraged to start as a way to reduce dementia risk," writes the Alzheimer's Society, a U.K.-based health charity. "Conversely, those who drink alcohol within the recommended guidelines are not advised to stop on the grounds of reducing the risk of dementia, although cutting back on alcohol consumption may bring other health benefits," their experts say.

"Based on one's unique personal and family history, alcohol offers each person a different spectrum of benefits and risks," Harvard Health Publishing further notes. Speak with your doctor to learn more about how your own drinking habits may affect your personal risk, their experts advise.