While the benefits of red wine are well documented when it comes to the heart, a new study has revealed that a glass or two of red is also good for the brain.

Consumed in small amounts, red wine can tamp down inflammations and "clean" the brain by getting rid of toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer's.

A team from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) looked into how both excessive and low levels of alcohol consumption affected the brains of lab mice.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, looks into the glymphatic system, the brain's way of cleaning up. It works just like a flush: a substance known as cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is pumped into brain tissue and clears brain waste. It does away with toxins such as proteins beta amyloid and tau, which are associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Mice that were exposed to high levels of alcohol over a long period of time lost some of their motor skills and cognitive abilities and their brains were highly inflamed. But mice that ingested the equivalent of two and half glasses of wine a day showed lesser levels of brain inflammation and their CFS was more efficient.

That meant that their brains were clearing better than if they had not had wine.

"Studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline," sums up Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at URMC.

I heart wine

This is the first time a study has shown that alcohol can be good for the brain although the effects of low amounts of red wine on the human heart are well known for helping lower the risks of cardiovascular diseases in both men and women.

A study by Louisiana State University published yesterday (1 February) shows that compounds in wine can help surgical treatments.

In a coronary angioplasty, for example, where a tiny balloon is inserted in the body to widen blocked or narrow arteries to ease bloodflow and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, there is a risk over time that the balloon will not by itself be enough to prevent arteries blocking or narrowing again. This is where red gets important: It contains two antioxidants that can prevent blood inflammation: resveratrol and quercetin.

"By delivering red wine antioxidants during conventional angioplasty, it may be possible to prevent excess tissue from building up and the blood vessel from narrowing again as it heals," said lead author Dr Tammy Dugas.

Dugas is building a stent (a short tube tiny enough to fit into a blood vessel) to slowly release antioxidants found in red wine into the body in order to prevent blood vessels from clotting and inflammation.