Drink To This: Study Finds Alcohol Can Fuel Brain

by
Owen Poindexter
A new study scores a point for the drinkers: alcohol gets processed into a chemical that can provide an alternative fuel source to power the brain. And the more you drink, the better you are at that.


Drink up! Your brain needs the fuel. PHOTO: Drahkrub, Wikimedia Commons

Tell me this isn’t the best news you’ve heard today: a new study shows that drinking can actually provide fuel for your body and brain, especially if you drink a lot. Processing alcohol in the liver produces a chemical called acetate, which gets recirculated in the blood stream. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that heavy drinkers use acetate as an alternative energy source to sugar (the body’s standard fuel), and that acetate can help power the brain.

To test this, scientists rounded up seven heavy drinkers and seven light drinkers, injected each (while sober) with traceable acetate, then blasted them with radio waves (you probably already knew that part, who wouldn’t do that?). The radio waves bounced off the tracer in the acetate, which sent a return signal. The scientists could interpret that return signal to know how much of that acetate had been processed into energy, and where it was.

The results: heavy drinkers used the acetate twice as quickly, and transported more acetate to their brains. Lead researcher Graeme Mason said “I jumped out of my chair and threw my fist in the air,” when he saw the results. He suspected, contra the old biology wisdom that sugar is the body’s only energy source, that people with higher blood-acetate levels would be more adept at milking energy out of it, but “the effect was way bigger than I thought.”

Acetate is best known as a chemical in vinegar, but you’re better off grabbing a brew than some balsamic. The liver is so good at turning alcohol into acetate, that you would have to guzzle much more vinegar than any sane person would to get a comparable benefit from just drinking alcohol (and food still works as an energy source, in case you were worried).

Mason is now looking into whether his findings can help ease withdrawal symptoms of people recovering from alcoholism. That’s something we can all drink to.

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