MU professor studying potential link between alcohol and alzheimer's

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COLUMBIA - The federal government awarded an MU professor a $1.8 million grant Tuesday to study the role of alcohol in insomnia and brain inflammation.

Mahesh Thakkar, professor and director of research in the Department of Neurology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said his study will focus on how "chronic alcohol consumption directly and indirectly disrupts sleep leading to insomnia, sleep disturbances and brain inflammation in mice."

"The major problem alcohol abusers have is they can't go to sleep," he said. "They have to drink alcohol to fall asleep. If they keep drinking, they build a tolerance and need even more alcohol to go to sleep."

People with alcohol-induced sleep disorders, like insomnia, tend to have brain inflammation, Thakkar said. But while there is a direct link between alcohol and insomnia, scientists don't know if it's the alcohol use or alcohol-induced sleep deprivation that causes the inflammation.

"If [inflammation] is caused by insomnia and associated sleep disturbances, then any person who has sleep disturbances from apnea or restless legs may have brain inflammation because they can't go to sleep," he said.

Brain inflammation can also cause diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis.

"If we can understand how this is happening, we can treat it, first thing," Thakkar said. "Also we can prevent it. For example, if we [find] that alcohol-induced sleep problems are the cause of brain inflammation: we know that people aren't going to stop drinking alcohol, but we can treat their sleep problems with drugs."

Thakkar said he expects to publish his findings in early 2020. In the meantime, he has a piece of advice to share.

"The bottom line is even a small amount of alcohol is not good," he said. "Ideally, you should not drink alcohol, but that is difficult in this society. So what I would say is drink [minimally] and try to avoid binge drinking. Regular binge drinking is the most harmful thing."