Alcohol Fuels the Brain

MARCH 01, 2005

A daily cocktail may help the mind as well as the heart. Reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine (January 20, 2005), researchers discovered that women over 70 who said they had 1 alcoholic drink each day were less likely to show signs of mental decline 2 years later, compared with nondrinkers. Earlier studies have indicated that light drinking may lower the risk of dementia.

To investigate alcohol's effects on the brain, the researchers gave 11,102 women between 70 and 81 memory tests. The women were given a follow-up test 2 years later. The tests required the participants to repeat lists of random words, a series of digits, and stories. The participants also reported how much they drank. The results of the study showed that women who had 1 drink a day (equivalent to about 2 drinks in men) scored higher on the mental tests, compared with nondrinkers. Light drinkers had a very low risk of mental impairment, and were less likely to show a major cognitive decline than nondrinkers.