New Research: Moderate Drinking Might Prevent Alzheimer’s

Thursday, September 01, 2011


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Moderate, social drinking could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, according to researchers at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Examining more than 143 studies, dating back to 1977 and including more than 365,000 participants, researchers discovered that moderate drinkers were 23% less likely to develop cognitive impairment. Moderate drinking means a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. 

These results, reported in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, adjusted for age, education, sex, and smoking. The study also discovered that there was no difference in effects of alcohol between women and men. 

Local opinion: skeptical  

Dr. Lori Daiello, an assistant professor of Neurology and PharmD at Rhode Island Hospital’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center, said that her first response to this NIH-supported study was skeptical. She suggested that rather than implying a direct causal link, the study should say: “moderate drinking is associated with a decreased risk.” 

“I think that there is a significant possibility that the results may be a proxy for ‘healthy lifestyle factors’ that decrease cognitive impairment risk,” Daiello said.  “That is, people who drink moderately are more likely to exercise, eat a Mediterranean diet, or other factors that have been associated with decreased risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.” 

Go for grapes 

According to the Loyola study, wine was more helpful than beer or liquor, however the researchers noted that this finding was limited because most studies examined did not differentiate between different types of alcohol. Daiello said that this factor held with her own findings. Contents in the grape seed are “a natural antioxidant found in high concentrations in red wine that has been associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

Limit your glasses 

Meanwhile, the study discovered that heavy drinking, meaning over three drinks a day for women and five for men, was associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Daiello noted that this was also consistent with her knowledge about alcohol’s affects: “Alcohol in high doses is a neurotoxin and heavy drinking has been clearly associated with cognitive impairment, brain atrophy (shrinkage), and neuronal damage in many other studies.” 

Don’t start, if you haven’t already… 

The writers of the study did not list a reason behind these findings, but mentioned a series of theories. One indicated that some cardiovascular benefits from alcohol could improve blood flow, and therefore brain metabolism. Another theory, “the sick quitters” theory, posited that some nondrinkers have a higher risk of cognitive impairments because the group included former heavy drinkers whose brain cells were damaged, but this theory did not hold up with testing. The final theory indicated that small amounts of alcohol might toughen brain cells to cope with major stresses that could cause dementia.  

While these are possibilities, Daiello said, “I agree with the authors’ statement  - based on the results of the study non-drinkers shouldn’t begin moderately drinking to reduce their risk of dementia.”


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