A New Study Is Asking If High Alcohol Consumption Could Protect Against ALS

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Where the Ice Bucket Challenge meets the Smirnoff Ice Challenge lies a new study from the European Journal of Neurology — could drinking alcohol help protect you from ALS? The study was targeting ethanol and examined medical registries from 1973 to 2010, and what it found was surprising:

They found that individuals who were classified as problem drinkers were a little more than half as likely to be diagnosed with ALS as those who didn’t have “alcohol use disorder.” More than 420,000 problem drinkers were registered during the period surveyed—and there were 7965 patients who received an ALS diagnosis.

The study, just reported in The European Journal of Neurology, controlled for gender, education and place of birth, among other factors. But it was unable to tell why drinking might help. It did lead, though, to a number of intriguing speculations. The researchers cited studies in rats, done by other groups, that indicated that ingestion of alcohol decreased the number of brain cells called astrocytes that bore high levels of a certain protein linked to the pathology of ALS.

One Twitter account, ALS Advocacy Topics, raised a good point — does alcohol actually protect from ALS, or would the telltale signs of ALS even be questioned in a heavy drinker or alcoholic? Basically, rather than drinkers not getting ALS, maybe they’re just not getting diagnosed.

More research is needed to determine if booze is finally the answer at least this problem, and obviously no one is advocating the active pursuit of alcoholism as a preventive health measure. But maybe you don’t need to feel as bad about that extra glass of wine tonight, you big lush.