Heavy drinkers get a jolt of brain juice from booze

boozebeltA study could comfort quite a few alcoholics in denial. It found that long term alcohol use boosts brain levels of acetate, an energy rich by-product of alcohol metabolism and it gives drinkers a nice jolt of energy for the few grey cells they did not manage to kill off yet.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and it found that people who drank at least eight drinks per week stood to gain more brain energy from acetate than light drinkers, although eight drinks a week hardly qualifies as heavy drinking, but eight drinks at lunch does.

However, there is a downside, too. Study co-author Graeme Mason of Yale University believes the jolt could be responsible for giving drinkers more incentive to drink and that it might also explain why dropping booze is so hard, reports sciencenews.org.  Duke University biochemical geneticist Ting-Kai Li believes Mason’s hypothesis is good and that it proves previous assumptions that heavy drinkers absorb more acetate.

Acetate is usually associated with vinegar, which is often used as an excuse to justify the existence of salads. However, simply pouring more vinegar on salads won’t help. When people drink alcohol the brain breaks it down and pumps out plenty of acetate as a by-product. Although the brain prefers sugar, it can also burn acetate. Researchers proved their point by injecting sober volunteers with acetate tagged with a traceable atom. Then they measured how much acetate was used up in the brain and learned that heavy drinkers burn acetate at twice the rate of light drinkers. Mason likened the process to a bi-fuel car, which can run on ethanol once it runs out of petrol.

Mason said he was very surprised by the results, which proved his suspicions that people with high acetate levels would be tapping energy from it.

“The effect was way bigger than I thought,” he said.

Mason now wants to see whether administering some acetate could help addicts get over their alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, he warns that people should not go out and start drinking vinegar to wane themselves off booze. People would have to ingest too much vinegar to get as much acetate as they would from drinking alcohol. Salads aren’t a very good delivery platform and simply chugging vinegar doesn’t work, either.