Moderate drinking may help brain function, says new US study

New York: A study of more than 7,000 older women has revealed that those who regularly drink a moderate amount of alcohol have better brain function that abstainers.

The study, carried out by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina in the US was published in the journal of Neuroepidemiology found that women who had two to three drinks a day had better cognitive function, including memory, concentration, verbal skills and reasoning.

Lead researcher, Mkike Espeland, PhD said the research confimed other studies that moderate consumption of alcohol may provide some medical benefits.

Espeland, a professor of public health sciences and chairman of the Department of Biostatistical Sciences, said understanding whether alcohol affects specific areas of cognition may shed light on the mechanisms that make it protective.

He conjectures that alcohol increases levels of “good” cholesterol and lowers the risk of stroke, that it may decrease the formation of plaque that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and that it may increase the release of brain chemicals that affect learning and memory. He added that the findings were not a reason for women to change their current drinking habits.

The researchers used information from the 7,460 women in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), a large national study to assess the effects of hormone therapy on dementia and cognitive function. They also used statistics from 2,299 of these women who were also enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging (WHISCA), which involved annual standardized testing of specific areas of cognitive performance. All women in the studies were 65 and older.

The information from this large group of women confirmed earlier findings from the researchers (based on a subset of 4,461 WHIMS participants,) that those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol (up to two or three drinks a day) performed better on tests for cognitive function. Using data from the WHISCA participants, they were able to pinpoint specific areas of cognition that were affected.

Previous studies have also indicated that moderate levels of alcohol intake reduce the risk of dementia and decline in cognitive function. Espeland said, however, that the results must be interpreted with caution.

The researchers adjusted for other factors that might affect the results, such as education level and family income, and still found the same pattern of moderate alcohol intake associated with better cognitive function and less risk of dementia.

The study received support from the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Espeland’s co-researchers were Laura Coker, Ph.D., and Stephen R. Rapp, Ph.D., also from Wake Forest Baptist, Robert Wallace, M.D., from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Susan Resnick, Ph.D., from the National Institute on Aging, Marian Limacher, M.D., from the University of Florida, Lynda Powell, M.D., from Rush University Medical Center, and Catherine Messina, Ph.D., from State University of New York at Stony Brook.