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Kiwi boffins prove that booze makes you clever

Two or three a day for a healthy brain, like it or not

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At last, scientists have delivered conclusive proof of what many people instinctively knew - booze makes you clever.

Top boffins at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, by studying the mental performance of specially-created transgenic rats well supplied with drink, have found that moderate daily alcohol intake conferred "heightened cognition".

Kiwi brainbox Maggie Kalev said she "thought it was worth pursuing, since ethanol drinking is such a common pattern of human behaviour... This is similar to a glass of wine protecting against heart disease, however the mechanism is different".

Scientific American covered the pleasing biological breakthrough last week, under the headline "Don't forget: Drink a Beer - or Two - Daily!"

That, of course, is excellent health advice; now backed up by cutting edge Kiwi genetically modified alco-rat research. But in fact it doesn't have to be beer, and Kalev says the brain-enhancement effects kick in at "approximately one to two drinks per day for some people or two to three for others, depending upon their size, metabolism, or genetic background" - based on the equivalent blood alcohol levels to those found in her thirsty mutant rats, anyway.

It seems the rats were separated into three groups. One was put on a fairly hefty booze intake equivalent to five or six beers a day; another lot got a ration "equivalent to a level of consumption that does not exceed [the] legal driving limit" - though disappointingly they still were not allowed to drive cars. The third, luckless group of rodents were put on a temperance regime.

After four weeks of heavy, moderate, or no drinking, the rats were tested to see how their brains had been affected. Unsurprisingly, the most alcoholic rats showed signs of impairment, seeming unable to recognise familiar ratty toys. According to SciAm, the booziest murines also exhibited the symptoms of the lachrymose drunk. They "performed better than their normal brethren on the emotional memory task", suggesting that they had started to ramble on tiresomely to the other rats about their ex-wives or similar.

"People often drink to 'drown sorrows'," according to Kalev. "Our results suggest that this could actually paradoxically promote traumatic memories and lead to further drinking, contributing to the development of alcoholism."

So remember - drinking is for happy occasions, not sad ones.

The greatest revelations, however, came with the moderately-thirsty group who had the equivalent of two of three cheery ales a day. These upstanding correctly-lifestyled rats trounced the teetotallers in every area.

One test in particular involved the small furry Kiwis being given an electric shock whenever they walked on a black-coloured area inside a cage. Faculties unhinged by a steady regimen of tea and fruit juice, the third group were unable to remember that the black area was painful, paying a grisly electric price for their abstinence.

Regrettably, however, it appeared that in the case of alcohol brain therapy more is not better. Boffins were agreed that drinking a lot is - couterintuitively, perhaps - actually worse for you than having no booze at all. But having no booze is bad too; which means that po-faced killjoys who want to put up the already outrageous grog taxes are effectively saying that only the rich can be clever.

So the best thing is to have a couple of beers each and every day without fail, even if you don't want them. Or you could have wine instead, and so benefit your heart as well as your brain. Skipping days is bad for you; especially if you then try to catch up later and drink several days' dose of brain-booster in a oner. ®

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