What’s the effect of alcohol on the brain? Should we drink at all? A new review suggests that moderate drinking may in fact lower risks of memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease.The review analyzed the results from 143 studies which included 365,000 participants in 19 countries. The studies compared non-drinkers to drinkers.It was found that in 14 of the 19 countries, including the U.S., moderate drinkers were 23% less likely than non-drinkers to develop signs of memory loss. The benefit of moderate drinking applied to all forms of dementia (dementia unspecified, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia) and to cognitive impairment.
Are you a moderate drinker?
Moderate drinking means one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. One drink is defined as 1.5 oz. of spirits, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer.
Heavy drinking means three to five drinks or more a day. The review found an association between heaving drinking and higher risks for dementia and cognitive impairment but this association was not strong enough to be statistically significant.
Wine or whisky?
A few studies suggest that wine is better than beer or spirits. Other studies report no difference. Many studies do not differentiate between the different types of alcohol. So this question remains unanswered!
How does it work?
Why would moderate drinking be good for the brain? There is no clear explanation so far but researchers hypothesize that alcohol may have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. If moderate amounts of alcohol can lower inflammation in the brain, moderate drinking may thus help reduce risks of dementia. Note that red wine also has anti-oxidant properties, which helps fight oxydation in the body and the brain.
All this being said, it is not clear that we should all start drinking if we are not already light to moderate drinkers! The results reported in this review show an association between moderate drinking and lower risks of Alzheimer’s. An association doesn’t imply causation. It is possible that moderate drinkers also tend to have a balanced diet or tend to exercise regularly for instance which also have beneficial effects on the brain and may lower risks of dementia.
Neafsey E. J. , & Collins, M. A. (2011). Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment , 7:465-484.