Don’t Blame Your Memory Loss on Drinking

Can alcohol keep us our minds sharp as we age? Previous research has suggested that moderate drinking can lower your risk of developing dementia, but a recent study is contradicting that finding.

Researchers followed almost 4,000 men and women aged 55 and older in southern Spain who did not have dementia. Participants were asked questions about their alcohol consumption habits, and an examination of their mental state and cognitive abilities was performed by psychiatrists both 2.5 years and 4.5 years later. For women, drinking fewer than 2 drinks/day, depending on alcohol type, was considered low-to-moderate.  For men, under 3 drinks/day, also depending on alcohol type, was considered low-to-moderate.

After analyzing the data, researchers found no significant effect of low to moderate alcohol consumption on reducing risk of dementia in the elderly. While acknowledging that previous studies have indeed found a relationship between low-to-moderate drinking and protection against dementia, the researchers attributed the difference in their findings to the fact that they categorized those who had abstained from alcohol their whole lives separately from former drinkers who were currently abstaining. In previous research, these two populations were both defined as “abstainers”, which could have skewed the results, thereby falsely reducing the risk of the moderate drinkers compared to the abstainers.  Also, definitions of low and moderate drinking vary widely between studies, making them difficult to compare.

Overall, the effect of alcohol has on your health is complex.  It has been shown to have benefits for your heart (red wine in particular has been shown to increase HDL levels, or the good cholesterol), and help you live longer.  On the flip side, it also has been associated with an increased risk of developing many cancers (including breast), and psoriasis.  Alcohol is a high calorie beverage which can lead to weight gain, as well as all of the health risks associated with that, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Recommendations by most health organizations in the USA (including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society) for alcohol consumption include limiting intake to 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men.

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