Claim: A 2015 study determined consumption of champagne is linked with myriad health benefits in humans.

UNPROVEN

WHAT’S TRUE: Research (published in 2013) indicated that a small study involving elderly rats demonstrated potential cognitive improvements in a group given champagne.

WHAT’S FALSE/UNPROVEN: The study in question was “new” in November 2015, the benefits observed in rats were linked to three glasses of champagne a day, similar effects were observed in (or applied to) humans.

Examples:[Collected via Twitter, November 2015]

Origins: In November 2015, social media rumors claimed a purported “new study” linked the consumption of champagne with myriad health benefits. Assertions about the efficacy of imbibing (champagne in particular) proved particularly popular among users of Facebook and Twitter, whose sharing of articles about the research caused the topic to “trend” on 8 November 2015.

On 9 November 2015, British news outlet The Independent published an article headlined “Preventing dementia: Three glasses of Champagne ‘could cut risk of developing Alzheimer’s’ — but why stop there,” reporting tat:

Excitement has bubbled over among Champagne fans online after reports emerged suggesting a few glasses a week could help prevent dementia. The research to back up that assertion, carried out a couple of years ago at the University of Reading, found that rats who were fed small quantities of the sparkling wine performed better on simple memory tests.

While that article downplayed the fact the research emerged “a couple of years ago,” a 9 November 2015  report by Memphis station WHBQ was a bit more specific in revealing that the study has actually been conducted over two years earlier:

According to a 2013 University of Reading study, drinking up to three glasses of champagne weekly may “help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.” The 2 1/2-year-old report resurfaced on social media this weekend, cracking Facebook’s list of trending topics late Sunday.

As the excerpted portion noted, the study in question was published in 2013 (not 2015), making it not particularly “new” in late 2013. WHBQ linked to a 7 May 2013 University of Reading press release titled “Scientists reveal drinking champagne could improve memory,” which announced:

New research shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia. Scientists at the University of Reading have shown that the phenolic compounds found in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for recording information about one’s environment, and storing the information for future navigation. Dr. David Vauzour, the researcher on the study, added: “in the near future we will be looking to translate these findings into humans. 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.”

Multiple news outlets picked the story up in November 2015 due to the social media trend, but what drove the initial interest among users wasn’t immediately clear. Around 3 November 2015, Twitter users began linking (seemingly out of nowhere) to a 2013 post on the alcohol trade publication web site the drinks business titled “Champagne Can ‘Help Improve Memory'”

The original study was titled “Phenolic Acid Intake, Delivered Via Moderate Champagne Wine Consumption, Improves Spatial Working Memory Via the Modulation of Hippocampal and Cortical Protein Expression/Activation,” and published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling on 3 April 2013. Its key findings could be summarized in the following excerpt from the study’s abstract:

In contrast to the isocaloric and alcohol-matched controls, supplementation with Champagne wine (1.78 ml/kg BW, alcohol 12.5% vol.) for 6 weeks led to an improvement in spatial working memory in aged rodents.

As actual text of the study revealed, its findings were neither novel in 2015 nor derived from any research on humans. In response to a groundswell of interest in the study Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) published an article titled “No hard evidence champagne can prevent dementia” on 9 November 2015, harshing the world’s newfound bubbly buzz. The agency underscored that media framing of the old research (based on social media interest) was misleading and inaccurate:

The media sources do not report responsibly on this early-stage animal research. The quantity of champagne consumed by the rats was said to be equivalent to 1.3 small glasses of champagne (around two units) a week for humans. And we can’t be sure these results would apply to humans.

The NHS concluded by explaining that the study findings hadn’t been replicated in other rats, let alone humans. Moreover, the agency warned that any potential benefits should be weighed against the known detrimental effects of excessive alcohol consumption:

This research found champagne might improve spatial memory in adult rats, possibly in relation to the phenolic acids in the drink. This study on rats found those given champagne to drink over six weeks seemed to have improved performance when finding treats in a maze test. These rats also seemed to have increased levels of brain proteins related to adaptability and learning.

However, before jumping to any conclusions, it should be noted this is a study on a small number of rats. The apparent improvements in the champagne group were only significant compared with the alcohol-free group — there was no significant difference in effect compared with the non-champagne alcoholic group. This means there is no firm proof these effects were directly the result of the phenolic compounds present in champagne.

This study is from 2013, and would ideally need to be repeated on a larger number of rats by other researchers to make sure it is correct. This research has limited direct applicability to humans.

The health risks of excessive alcohol consumption are well established. While we can’t say for certain whether or not drinking champagne could have any effect on your future dementia risk, we can say regularly drinking high levels of alcohol is likely to cause many other health risks.

In short, November 2015 social media rumors about the “champagne study” were based research done on rodents and published in 2013. No additional research indicated the benefits in question applied to humans, and the quantities of champagne (generally described as equivalent to one to three glasses a week when extrapolated for humans). While it’s possible future research could link champagne consumption to improved cognitive function in humans, the study cited by social media users didn’t fit that description.

Last updated: 9 November 2015

Originally published: 9 November 2015