Women Who Have One Alcoholic Drink Daily Have Better Memories, Study Finds
Women who consume one alcoholic drink per day are 20% less likely to have cognitive impairment as they age, according to a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Sevrens Lyons, San Jose Mercury News, 1/20). The study, led by Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard Public School of Health, analyzed alcohol consumption data form 12,480 women who were enrolled in the Nurses Health Study between 1980 and 1998. Participants were then given cognitive tests over the telephone between 1995 and 2002 (Rabin, Long Island Newsday, 1/20). At the time of the tests, the participants ranged in age from 70 to 81 (San Jose Mercury News, 1/20).
According to the study, women who drank about 15 grams of alcohol per day -- considered a moderate amount - were less likely to experience cognitive impairment as they aged (Long Island Newsday, 1/20). They were "cognitively equivalent to being approximately a year and a half younger" than those who abstained from alcohol, according to the study, the Mercury News reports (San Jose Mercury News, 1/20). Additionally, women who consumed alcohol in moderate amounts were about 15% less likely to have a decline in their mental abilities over the study period, according to the report. However, no benefit was found for women who drank more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Researchers said the study's results remained the same when characteristics about the women that could have skewed findings were taken into account.
Researchers believe that alcohol may affect the brain by improving blood flow. It also may reduce the risk of small strokes, "which can cause subtle brain damage that erodes mental powers," the Washington Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 1/20). Although the study only involved women, researchers believe the results could be applied to men as well. (Fauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/19). Moderate intake for men is considered to be one to two alcoholic drinks per day.
Marilyn Albert of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, speaking on behalf of the Alzheimer's Association, said, "We know it is beneficial to have a drink a day for your heart. This says there is an additional reason to follow that guideline -- it can protect against cognitive decline. So now we have two reasons to do it" (Washington Post, 1/20).
However, some experts questioned the findings. Beth Epstein, an associate research professor at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said, "It just doesn't sound right. Alcohol causes brain damage. ... I think putting information like that out there is very dangerous for people" (Long Island Newsday, 1/20). The study is available online.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Stampfer; Denis Evans, director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging; and Samir Zakhari of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Aubrey, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/20). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded NPR coverage is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.