Scientists at the University of Reading in Great Britain recently published the results of their research in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signalling. They found that Champagne's phenolic compounds can improve our spatial memory, which plays a role in navigation and the performance of complex tasks and calculations.
The acid compounds aid signaling in the brain's hippocampus and cortex and help prevent the loss of proteins involved in memory storage that typically occurs as we grow older. In the team's study of lab rats, Champagne slowed this decline. Researchers gave the rats a moderate dose of Champagne each day for six weeks — the human equivalent of about a glass-and-a-half a week — and found the subjects performed twice as well on maze tests as rats who had not had previously tasted bubbly.
"Daily supplementation with a low-to-moderate dose of Champagne for six weeks led to an improvement in memory," the study's lead author, Dr. Giulia Corona, told Wine Spectator, "indicating phenolic compounds in Champagne may interact directly with nerve cells, improve the communication between cells and encourage nerves that carry electrical signals in the brain to regenerate."
In a separate statement, co-author Jeremy Spencer of Reading's department of food and nutritional sciences, said, "These exciting results illustrate for the first time that the moderate consumption of Champagne has the potential to influence cognitive functioning, such as memory."
There is a significant body of research on the cognitive and health benefits of antioxidants known as flavonoids, another phenolic compound, in red wine and such foods as blueberries, strawberries and cherries. Champagne lacks flavonoids. "However, our research shows that Champagne is also capable of influencing brain function through the actions of smaller phenolic compounds, previously thought to lack biological activity," Spencer said in his statement. "We encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, and our results suggest that a very low intake of one to two glasses a week can be effective."
In the near future, co-author Dr. David Vauzour said, researchers should be able to translate these findings into concrete recommendations for people. "This has been achieved successfully with other polyphenol-rich foods, such as blueberry and cocoa, and we predict similar outcomes for moderate Champagne intake on cognition in humans." Vauzour estimated it would take a year or two of regular, moderate Champagne drinking to generate results.
This latest study adds to a growing volume of research into the potential health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. The National Institutes of Health reports that adults who drink light-to-moderate amounts of white and red wine, beer and even distilled spirits (two-to-seven drinks per week), are less likely to develop heart disease than people who drink heavily or do not drink at all.
Moderate drinking can increase HDL or "good" cholesterol, decrease the risk of developing blood clots, reduce inflammation and derive the benefits of antioxidants. However, the American Heart Association reminds the public that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol through diet and lifestyle changes, exercise and weight loss, as well as avoiding smoking, are far more powerful methods of boosting health than a nightly glass of wine.
Still, aside from being a pleasant supplement to these other healthy choices, Champagne consumed in moderation beyond Dec. 31 could make it less likely that auld acquaintances will be forgot in new years to come.
To launch your regimen, here are 5 great "real" Champagnes from Next Avenue's guide to Valentine's Day for Fiftysomething Lovers:
- Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Non-Vintage ($40): Real Champagne at a real-life price. Delicate and subtle, with a pretty almond quality and a lacy, slightly smoky finish.
- Henri Goutorbe Millésime Brut 2005 ($70) Haunting and sumptuous — a little tart, a little smoky, with a burnt lemon finish that's sexy and musky in the most subtle way. This 100 percent Grand Cru from Aÿ is captivating.
- Pehu-Simmonet Blanc de Noirs Brut Non-Vintage ($70) An oddball beauty from an idiosyncratic small grower in the Verzenay sub-district of Champagne, this bright pink sparkler is intensely tangy, with a cherry twang and a brandied cherry finish unlike any other wine in the world. It’s just striking and gorgeous.
- Pol Roger Vintage Brut 2000 ($100) Velvety, sumptuous and trilling with energy, Pol Roger always captures the true, you-can't-pin-it-down spirit of Champagne. Mineral yet floral, forthright yet subtle, it is abundant with aromas but restrained and structured. Beautiful.
- Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée Non-Vintage ($150) Blended from more than 200 base wines, this is as fine a wine as mankind knows how to make. It's taut and lithe as a jaguar, fragrant with brioche and honeyed almonds — and it will floor you with its full-throttle power.