January 20, 2005
A Drink A Day Reduces Cognitive Decline In Old Age

Harvard researchers have found in the on-going Nurses' Health Study that elderly women who drink one alcoholic beverage a day experience less cognitive decline than otherwise similar women who do not have a daily drink.

"Low levels of alcohol appear to have cognitive benefits," said Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, senior author on the study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. "Women who consistently were drinking about one-half to one drink per day had both less cognitive impairment as well as less decline in their cognitive function compared to women who didn't drink at all," Grodstein said.

This result is expected to hold for men as well.

Both wine and beer were beneficial.

They found that the women who had the equivalent of one drink a day had a 23% lower risk of becoming mentally impaired during the two-year period, compared with non-drinkers.

12,400 elderly women were in the study.

Stampfer and colleagues focused on more than 12,400 Nurses' Health Study participants. The women were 70 to 81 years old. The researchers collected information about the women's alcohol intake as part of a food questionnaire every two to four years, starting in 1980. They asked the women how often on average they drank beer, wine, or liquor during the previous year.

The result held even after many other factors were adjusted for.

The results held true even after the researchers factored in characteristics about the women that could have confused the findings, such as age, education, how many friends and family members they had, how much exercise they got, and whether they had any other health problems.

The suspected mechanism by which alcohol delivers this benefit is improved blood flow. This suggests a few things. First, younger people who have improved blood flow may not gain any cognitive benefit from drinking alcohol. So it might make more sense to delay making a daily drink as part of your routine until late middle age. Though I'd like to see more research on this point.

Another point is that alcohol is not the only way available - or even the most powerful way - to improve blood flow or for preventing a decline in blood flow. A heart healthy diet and lifestyle is probably the best bet for keeping strong blood flow available in all parts of the body. Foods low in saturated fats, lots of fruits and vegetables and some nuts as well would all be good bets. I'm going to guess that nuts high in arginine will eventually be shown to be especially beneficial on this count. Plus, plenty of exercise, sufficient sleep, avoidance of chronically stressing situations, and of course no smoking are wise lifestyle choices.

Another point here is that statin drugs that keep cholesterol down may also slow the rate of cognitive decline. In the future stem cell therapies that allow the circulatory system to be rejuvenated will also reduce the rate of cognitive decline. Though note that poor circulation is only one cause of cognitive decline. Other causes of brain aging must also be addressed before cognitive decline can be halted and even reversed.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 January 20 02:45 PM  Brain Aging

Mr. Econotarian said at January 21, 2005 8:36 AM:

One can't rule out simply mild inebriation causing cognitive exercise (harder to walk, talk, etc.) Other studies show that intellectual stimulation (such as playing music) reduces elderly cognitive decline.

tipsy said at January 21, 2005 1:18 PM:

Yay! I can drink!

George said at January 24, 2005 7:09 AM:

Beer made Bud wiser.

angel said at August 18, 2007 9:55 AM:

I actually agree with all of this, I drink my glasses of wine every day and know when to stop, usually to relax myself after work and school, it helps me focus, although I try to keep fit and take care of other things in between 4 boys, work, school and aa alcoholic boyfriend thats just loves beer. so this is why I drink and besides the point that I just started drinking everyday it kind of easing my mind that this is something to look forward to as I get older, I just turned 40 and Im just starting to have fun!
Thanks for the great info

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