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Smelling Lots Of Wine Makes Your Brain Alzheimer’s Resistant

You’ve probably heard about the myriad benefits of drinking wine in moderation, but as it turns out, all you need to do is smell it to get a big boost in brain health.

That’s right, the scent of wine alone can actually improve your resistance to developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sound too good to be true? Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas beg to differ.

How Wine Wakes Up Your Brain

The study, which was actually published quite recently in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,1 inspected the brain structure and function of Master Sommeliers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

For those of you unfamiliar with the title, Master Sommeliers make wine their living. Becoming one requires years of preparation to pass one of the most difficult exams known to man. So difficult, in fact, that there exist less than 300 Master Sommeliers in the world, all of whom are required to be able to identify wine blindfolded using their sense of taste and smell.

Basically, these are the people who have spent as much time sniffing wine as we have drinking it. So, what’s the impact on their brain?

To find out, the study compared the MRI scans of 13 sommeliers and 13 people with average 9-5 jobs. According to the researchers:

There were regional activation differences in a large area involving the right olfactory and memory regions, with heightened activation specifically for sommeliers during an olfactory task.

Okay, so – they found that areas of sommeliers brains that deal with smell were much more developed. That’s to be expected.  

Slightly more surprising was that the brains of wine experts were also more developed when it came to memory – though, some would argue that’s expected too – a direct result of having to routinely remember the region, year, and history of a particular vintage.

But the most interesting implication comes from three sentences in the study’s introduction:

Our results indicate that sommeliers’ brains show specialization in the expected regions of the olfactory and memory networks, and also in regions important in integration of internal sensory stimuli and external cues. 

Overall, these differences suggest that specialized expertise and training might result in enhancements in the brain well into adulthood. This is particularly important given the regions involved, which are the first to be impacted by many neurodegenerative diseases.

In laymen’s terms, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s begin in the area of your brain that’s related to smell. Other research confirms this. A piece published in The Scientist cites smell impairment as one of the earliest signs of a degenerating brain:

Olfactory loss is not only an early warning sign of AD, but also of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and some other neurological disorders, presenting long before their classic clinical symptoms.

According to the Cleveland Clinic study, training your sense of smell with, in this case wine, may very well lead to an ability to better resist neurodegenerative diseases that come with age.

Smell Your Way To Better Brain Health

Develop your sense of smell, and use it to engage your mind’s eye. A key characteristic separating sommeliers from average Joes was the ability to draw on senses to create mental imagery, “such as imagining the fruits and vegetables in a grocery store, when judging wine,” the authors wrote.

As far as consuming wine goes, it looks like sniffing might be more beneficial than swilling.

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References:

1. Banks, Sarah J. et al. "Structural And Functional MRI Differences In Master Sommeliers: A Pilot Study On Expertise In The Brain". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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