I mean, just saying “dentate gyrus – a part of the hippocampus” makes me think of dancing while grinning drunkenly next to a tent on a riverbank in a game reserve. Not an unfamiliar scenario to many of our talented generation, I’m sure. That’s probably what has kept us young and our hippos still producing new babies. Or new neurons. The dancing and the alcohol. I remember one night in Sabi Sabi . . . . moving on . .
So there, I’m pleased to have brought you this good news: No alzheimers for us.
Cheat notes cos I know that’s too long for you: Researchers analyzed tissue samples from 58 participants and found that, although age does slow development, adults continue to develop new neurons – called adult neurogenesis – in our dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus in the human brain, until at least our 90s.
The alcohol you people drink is called ethanol. C2H5OH. This is a molecule that, in highly technical chemistry terms, looks like a hound dog with its leg cocked. Two carbon atoms (black) are stuck together to support an oxygen head (red). Six hydrogen atoms (white) spread out over the molecule to give each of the carbon atoms two feet, the oxygen atom a nose, and the rear carbon atom a tail. Ethanol is small, mobile, water and lipid soluble, so like a dog it can get into all sorts of places that maybe it shouldn’t. Like a dog it can also (sort of) head butt you in the crotch while sniffing to find out, or let others know, where you’ve been.
And where do you people want your ethanol? Why, in your brains, of course. That’s the point, innit? You might bulldust that you drink for your nose, or your palate, or your stomach or your blood. Rubbish. You drink to get that stuff in your brain. Once in the brain, alcohol acts on the nucleus accumbens. This area is a midpoint between the reward centre of a brain and the parts that make associations and memories. Ah, those memories, right? The good ones that you remember. And then there are those that your “friends” always insist on reminding you about!
Now everyone knows that too much alcohol at once can kill you, but how? It depresses nerve function, makes you sleep and suppresses the gag reflex, so people who are passed out can choke on their own vomit, like rock stars. So if you’re a wannabe rock star but can’t sing, can’t play, can’t grow your hair – there’s always that.
The brain also controls things like breathing and heart rate, and enough alcohol can shut down those parts of the brain too. People pass out and their brains simply forget to breathe.
BUT: Alcohol also has its good side, don’t forget! Scientifically, its a solution, and according to Homer Simpson, the solution to all life problems.
It causes a bunch of dopamine to be released, hot-wiring your brain-ular system. It makes you feel confident and talkative, because it depresses some Shut Up! brain functions and deadens the Be Discreet centre. It also makes you feel good, dunnit? And invincible, right? Erudite, and a very good dancer and singer. Remember Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl?
So alcohol is brilliant and worth investing in. Also, depending on what research you choose to believe, a glass of wine per day can either not do any harm, prevent heart attacks, or make you functionally immortal. I believe the latter. Does that make me a Latter Day Saint? Long after you finally die, they’ll have to beat your liver to death with a stick. Or transplant it into some lucky recipient who can wake up in the operating theatre pre-pickled.
It’s kind of nice to know that – sometimes – relaxation, cheer, wittiness and immortality can literally be bottled. All that’s needed is to take care just how much alcohol you let into your brain at any one time.
– – Paraphrased from a lovely article by Esther Inglis-Arkell. It’s worth a visit! It showcases Doug Adams’ cocktail, the ‘Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster’ from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and shows you how to set fire to grog in spectacular fashion. Marvelous stuff!