Why Wine is Good for Your Brain (And Not for the Reason You Might Think)

It seems like every week there is a slew of new reports and studies on the how wine either is good or not so good for your health. Resveratrol, quercetin, and ellagic acid have all been touted as magical health properties contained within wine, while others trumpet warnings about the potential damage from alcohol. While the debate goes on regarding the health effects of the components in wine, there may be other health benefits that can be gained from the wonderful learning journey that wine can provide.

My wine journey is fueled by the realization that no matter how much I read, visit, learn and taste, there will never be a point where I know it all. Nobody ever will. With up to 10,000 different wine grape varietals and hundreds of thousands of commercial wine producers across almost 100 countries, it’s not possible for any one person to have learned of, let alone tried, everything. In the wine world, despite how much you might know, there are always new adventures awaiting. And, that may be the good news for your brain.

In a fascinating TED Talk entitled What You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s, neuroscientist Lisa Genova discusses new research that shows that continual, lifelong learning of new things, especially when it involves multiple sensory stimuli (memory, visual, smell, sound, etc), can help build cognitive reserves through neural plasticity. These reserves can allow your brain to detour around the negative consequences of aging, genetics and cardiovascular issues that reduce brain and memory function over time.

“Every time we learn something new,” Genova notes, “we are creating and strengthening new neural connection, new synapses.” She goes on to delineate, “We can be resilient to Alzheimer’s through the recruitment of undamaged pathways and we create these pathways, this cognitive reserve, by learning new things. Ideally, we want these new things to be as rich in meaning as possible, recruiting sight and sound and associations and emotions.”

Learning that is rich in meaning?  For those on a serious wine journey, connecting the dots in the vast world of wine incorporates countless hours spent learning and making associations across geographical regions, cultures, agriculture, vintages, weather, climate, grape varietals, production techniques, labeling, marketing, and history.  All this is in addition to experiencing the sight, smell, texture and taste of different wines. I’m about ten years into my journey, but given what there still is to learn, feel like I’ve only travelled a few feet. That’s a good thing for my memory.

It’s important to note that, unlike learning journeys in other areas (like art appreciation), wine does include alcohol, which has been shown to pose significant health issues when consumed in excess. So, keeping your consumption in moderation is critical. In other words, have a glass of Bordeaux tonight while reading about how the Romans planted the first vines in the region 2,000 years ago. Then, share the rest of the bottle with your friends tomorrow. That’s a great way to retain both your cognitive functions and your friends.

This blog post is an entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.   #MWWC34

Photo credit: Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Wine Tasting at Fareham Wine Cellar by Dominic Lockyer on Flickr used under Creative Commons 2.0

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Lynn says:

    Love your spin on memory and wine! It seems I forget as much as I learn- there is just so much as you say. But it’s those adventures that combined multiple sensations and situations that stick.

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