A little alcohol is good for you, US study finds
Two drinks a day can stave off mental decline and improve memory skills, according to US research
Having two alcoholic drinks a day may slow mental decline and preserve brain function, according to US research. Dr Changwei Li from the University of Georgia said results from previous studies investigating links between mental health and moderate drinking have been mixed. But this new study has identified a “U-shaped relationship” between alcohol and cognitive function scores, where a little provided benefits but too much had the reverse effect.
HAVING two alcoholic drinks a day may slow mental decline and preserve brain function, according to a US study.
Dr Changwei Li, an epidemiologist at the University of Georgia (UGA), said results from previous studies investigating links between mental health and moderate drinking have been mixed. But this new study has identified a “U-shaped relationship” between alcohol and cognitive function scores, where a little provided benefits but too much had the reverse effect.
Dr Li said: “Our study suggested low to moderate drinking was associated with better total cognitive function and better word recall, mental status and vocabulary.
“Low to moderate alcohol use was also associated with slower rates of cognitive decline.”
The researchers found that people who enjoyed a regular drink − up to two a day − were a third less likely to have poor cognitive function compared to teetotallers.
This includes learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making and attention.
Even when controlling for other factors known to affect brain function, such as age, smoking or education level, the researchers said they saw a pattern of light drinking associated with high cognitive trajectories.
The results also showed the association was stronger among white participants, which Ruiyuan Zhang, lead author and a doctoral student at UGA’S College of Public Health, said calls for further exploration into the mechanisms of alcohol’s effect on the brain.
Light to moderate drinking was defined as fewer than eight drinks per week for women and 15 drinks or fewer among men. And the optimal intake was ten to 14 drinks per week, but Mr Zhang said the findings do not mean those who drink less should increase their intake. “It is hard to say this effect is causal,” he said.
“So, if some people don’t drink alcoholic beverages, this study does not encourage them to drink to prevent cognitive function decline.”
The researchers from UGA are the first to track alcohol consumption effects on cognition performance over 10 years, using data from a nationally representative sample from the Health and Retirement Study in the US.
A total of 19,887 middle-aged and older adults completed surveys every two years about their health and lifestyle, including questions on drinking habits, the JAMA open access journal reported.
They also had their cognitive function measured in a series of tests looking at their overall mental status, word recall and vocabulary.
These included being read a list of 10 words and then having to remember them immediately, or five minutes later.
Previous studies have shown moderate drinking has been found to increase a protein known as the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps the brain to develop new cells and strengthen existing ones.