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How Alcohol Can Help Your Brain

If you're age 60 or older and still have your wits about you, having a cocktail or two may enhance your episodic memory - the ability to remember events, whether they're recent or happened years ago. An example of useful episodic memory is the ability to remember where you parked your car. A new study from researchers in Texas, Kentucky and Maryland found that moderate alcohol consumption is also associated with a larger hippocampus, the brain area considered critical for episodic memory. Data from surveys of 660 patients enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort revealed the link through the review of the participants' alcohol consumption, demographics, neuropsychological evaluations, MRIs of their brains and whether or not they were genetically at risk for Alzheimer's disease. The researchers noted that results of earlier animal studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may promote generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. They added, however, that having five or more drinks on any single occasion would do your brain more harm than good.

What’s Your Favorite Alcoholic Drink? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed beer and whether it provides any health benefits: What's Wrong with Beer? Check out the article and let us know what alcoholic beverage you enjoy and include in your diet.

How Alcohol Boosts Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women

Drinking alcohol on a regular basis before a first pregnancy can set the stage for breast cancer later in life.Drinking alcohol on a regular basis before a first pregnancy can set the stage for breast cancer later in life. A study published online on August 28, 2013 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found an 11 percent increased risk of breast cancer among women who drank 10 grams (about one-third of an ounce) of alcohol six times a week compared to women who didn’t drink any alcohol. More than 91,000 women participated in the study and were followed for 20 years to determine how drinking (or not drinking) affected their breast cancer risk. None had a history of cancer to start with. The study also linked pre-pregnancy drinking with an increased risk for proliferative benign breast disease, itself a breast cancer risk. The researchers reported that 1,609 women developed breast cancer and 970 developed proliferative benign breast disease over the 20 years. They noted that breast tissue in women who have not been pregnant is particularly susceptible to carcinogens, which they suggested might help explain the breast cancer threat posed by drinking before pregnancy. They also wrote that the increased risk tended to be “more pronounced” among women with a longer time interval between the onset of menstruation and first pregnancy compared with women with a shorter interval.

Graham Colditz et al, “Alcohol Intake Between Menarche and First Pregnancy: A Prospective Study of Breast Cancer Risk,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt213 First published online: August 28, 2013