Moderate Alcohol Intake Linked to Healthy Brain Aging

Elderly patients who regularly consumed alcohol found less likely to develop dementia.

It has been well established that heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to several health problems, including cancer. Many patients may abstain from alcohol for these reasons, but other studies have linked it to longevity.

A new study published by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggests that older adults who have moderate alcohol intake are more likely to reach 85 years without developing dementia or cognitive impairments compared with patients who do not drink.

“This study is unique because we considered men and women's cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age," said senior author Linda McEvoy, PhD.

In the study, the investigators screened for dementia cognitive health every 4 years for 29 years. Drinking was categorized through guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Moderate drinking was classified as 1 alcoholic beverage per day for women of any age and men aged 65 years and older, and up to 2 drinks per day for men younger than 65 years. Heavy drinking was classified as up to 3 alcoholic beverages per day for adult women and men 65 years and older, and 4 drinks per day for men younger than 65 years. Excessive drinking was classified as consuming more than the specified amounts.

"It is important to point out that there were very few individuals in our study who drank to excess, so our study does not show how excessive or binge-type drinking may affect longevity and cognitive health in aging," Dr McEvoy said.

Previous studies show that long-term excessive alcohol intake may lead to dementia.

Interestingly, the authors of the current study found that patients 85 years and older who regularly consumed moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol 5 to 7 days a week were twice as likely to be cognitively healthy than non-drinkers, according to the study.

The authors accounted for other factors, such as smoking or obesity.

While these findings may be encouraging, the authors caution that the study does not suggest that drinking increases longevity and cognitive health. Alcohol intake has been associated with higher income and education, which results in lower rates of smoking, mental illness, and increased access to healthcare, according to the study.

However, the participants included in the study were largely from a white-collar, middle- to high-income neighborhoods, who were nearly all Caucasian with at least some college education, according to the study. This may suggest that these individuals may benefit from alcohol consumption, while others may not.

"This study shows that moderate drinking may be part of a healthy lifestyle to maintain cognitive fitness in aging," said lead author Erin Richard. "However, it is not a recommendation for everyone to drink. Some people have health problems that are made worse by alcohol, and others cannot limit their drinking to only a glass or two per day. For these people, drinking can have negative consequences."