Go ahead and take a deep whiff of the next glass of wine you see (and the next one, and the next one). Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas found in a preliminary study that master sommeliers — people who arguably rely on their sense of smell more than anyone else — are less likely to get Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s than people who don’t soak in delicious smells for a living.
The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, compared brain scans of 13 sommeliers and 13 people with much less interesting jobs. The researchers noticed key differences in certain areas of the sommeliers’ brains.
For one, as to be expected, sections of the sommeliers’ brains that deal with the olfactory (smell) network were thicker. Additionally, parts of the brain that deal with memory were thicker. Which makes sense if you think about it, since sommeliers are expected to remember not only how a wine tastes, but the region, history and year of that wine as well.
“Overall, these differences suggest that specialized expertise and training might result in enhancements in the brain well into adulthood,” the study states. “This is particularly important given the regions involved, which are the first to be impacted by many neurodegenerative diseases.”
It’s that last sentence that’s the kicker. Those strengthened sections of sommeliers’ brains are the sections that are most sensitive to losing memory function later in life. By that logic: Smell lots of wine, build resistance to memory loss. Then once you’ve smelled it, drink it, because studies show that helps prevent Alzheimer’s too.
It’s all very exciting, but the Cleveland Clinic study is far from conclusive.
“Though we don’t know for sure, there is a possibility that when it comes to the brain, thicker is better,” Sarah Banks, one of the authors in the story, told the New York Post. “It seems like if you have more brain in those areas, it’ll take longer to feel the effects of the disease, but it’s speculation.”
Speculation from a noted expert, however. There’s no word on how to be involved in future scientific wine smelling and tasting studies to retest the results.
Regardless, all of those smells deserve some extra recognition. It took enzymes working overtime to make that wine smell so good in the first place, after all.