Moderate drinking can improve memory
Hitting the bottle to help drown out memories you'd rather forget may in fact etch them more deeply into your consciousness, a new study has found.
The study at Auckland University was undertaken by Dr. Maggie Kalev and Professor Matthew During.
The two researchers found moderate levels of alcohol consumption, equivalent to one or two glasses of wine a day, could enhance memory.
In contrast, high levels of alcohol decreased the ability of new brain cells to develop and mature.
This caused an impairment of memory – except at times of heightened emotion, when memory was increased.
"Low levels of alcohol promoted neutral memories, such as remembering objects," said Dr Kalev.
"However, contrary to popular belief, we also found that excessive levels of alcohol enhanced memories of highly emotional stimuli, meaning the concept of `drinking to forget' is unlikely to be true."
"Our work suggests that heavy drinking actually reinforces negative memories."
The study also identified the way low doses of alcohol improved memory.
Dr Kalev said a "very important" brain receptor, called an NMDA receptor, appeared to be necessary for the process.
Testing done on rats showed if they did not have enough NMDA receptors, their memory did not improve when given low alcohol doses.
However, rats which did show high numbers of NMDA receptors exhibited memory improvement when given small amounts of alcohol.
"Pathways by which memory is laid down are unclear, but NMDA receptor is critical in this process," Dr Kalev said.
"Building on this knowledge may help in the treatment of memory disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and other dementias."
The results of the study are published in this week's Journal of Neuroscience.