Sure, drinking a shitload of wine can severely distort your recollection of the previous evening's events. But wine might also be able to protect your memory from the havoc wreaked by diseases like Alzheimer's.
That's according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers of Human Neuroscience examining the impact of wine tasting on our brains; specifically, the parts of the brain involved in taste, smell, and memory. And sorry, winos, it's not so much the wine per se, but rather the sensory experience of smelling and tasting wine that can change your brain.
The researchers behind this study chose to put 13 Master Sommeliers and 13 civilians into an MRI machine and had them smell fruits and wine, in order to look at the structural differences between the two groups of brains. Somms provided the ideal starting point for research into smell, taste, and memory because of their intense interaction with wine.
"Master Sommeliers have worked their way to the top of their field. In addition to depending heavily on their sense of smell and taste, sommeliers learn to draw on their memory and other senses, notably vision," the authors of the study wrote. "Specifically, sommeliers use mental imagery, such as imagining the fruits and vegetables in a grocery store, when judging wine."
What they found was that sommeliers' brains were actually thicker than non-wine experts' brains in areas related to memory and Alzheimer's, suggesting that "specialized expertise and training might result in enhancements in the brain well into adulthood." Furthermore, these parts of the brain are typically the first to be affected by neurodegenerative diseases, meaning that smelling and drinking wine at a high level could be protective.
"The olfactory regions are relevant to diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, where initial neurodegeneration is isolated to regions important in smell," the paper states. "Furthermore, given that sommeliers are experts not just in a single domain (e.g., olfaction and gustatory) but combine these, we felt that they may have specialization in regions important in integrating sensory information."
How their results apply to the general public remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure; somms have structurally different brains from the rest of us, meaning that their air of superiority may not only be warranted but validated by this study.