One alcoholic drink per day—beer, wine, or liquor—can stave off mental decline at least a little bit, a study of elderly women suggests.
Researchers conducted phone interviews with thousands of women between the ages of 70 and 81 who had completed questionnaires about their health and lifestyles a few times during the previous 8 years. Starting in 1995, the scientists performed a phone test to measure the women’s cognitive function. For each woman, they repeated the test 2 years later.
Over that time, women who didn’t drink were about 25 percent more likely to register a substantial cognitive decline than were those who averaged a drink a day. Women who averaged two drinks a day fared about as well as the teetotalers.
The groups had about the same proportions of women who held advanced college degrees, had high blood pressure or heart disease, were overweight, took vitamin E, were on hormone therapy, or smoked, says epidemiologist Francine Grodstein of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Excessive drinkers were excluded from the analysis.
The findings, reported in the Jan. 20 New England Journal of Medicine, bolster smaller studies suggesting that limited-but-consistent alcohol consumption protects against heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease (SN: 3/8/03, p. 155: Available to subscribers at When Drinking Helps). Such alcohol intake might aid blood flow to the brain—as it does in the heart—preventing tiny strokes and thereby preserving brain function, Grodstein and her colleagues hypothesize.