Low to Moderate Alcohol Consumption Associated With Better Cognitive Function


A new study found that compared with non-drinkers, middle to older adults had better cognitive function.

Low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with higher cognitive function in middle and older aged adults, according to a new study.

When compared with individuals who never drink alcohol, women who drink less than 8 alcoholic drinks per week and men who drink less than 15 drinks per week showed significantly improved mental trajectories. Although alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and stroke, some studies have found that low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with protective effects against cardiovascular disease. According to the study, studies surrounding the risks and benefits of low to moderate drinking have mixed results.

The study, which was published in Jama Network Open, was composed of 19,887 individuals who had their cognitive functions measured in 3 biennial surveys starting in 1996 through 2008. The data were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, which is nationally representative overview of US adults. The mean age of participants was 61.8.

The study, which was titled, “Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions from Middle to Older Age Among US Adults,” found that the associations were stronger for white individuals than black individuals. Additionally, they found that alcohol has a U-shaped relationship with cognitive function. Both ends of the extreme—nondrinkers and heavy drinkers—had lower levels of cognitive function compared with low to moderate drinkers. Researchers found that the optimal dosage was 10 to 14 drinks a week.

“Low to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with protecting cognitive function as assessed by the total cognitive score and the scores of each of the 3 cognition domains tested (mental status, word recall, and vocabulary). We also found that compared with never drinkers, low to moderate drinkers had slower rates of cognitive decline across time for all cognition domains evaluated. The association was strongest for the vocabulary test,” the study stated.

The study had several limitations. Alcohol consumption was self-reported, which could have led to recall bias. Additionally, the sample size for heavy drinkers was small. According to the study, alcohol consumption tended to vary and change over time.


Ruiyuan Zhang, MD, MS1; Luqi Shen, MS1; Toni Miles, MD, PhD1; et al Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults (Study); Jama Network Open; June 29, 2020; Jama Network Open, Accessed June 30, 2020

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