Drinking in Moderation May Protect the Brain

Julia Little  |  August 24, 2011

Group of friends drinkingDrinking alcohol socially and in moderation significantly reduced the risk of dementia and other cognitive impairments in a recent study by researchers from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Researchers analyzed 143 studies dating back as far as 1977 that included more than 365,000 participants. They found that moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment than those who did not drink or who drank excessively. Moderate drinking was defined as a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

The study does not explain why drinking in moderation can be beneficial to cognitive health. One theory states that moderate alcohol's benefits to cardiovascular health can improve blood flow in the brain, thus improving brain metabolism.

"We don't recommend that nondrinkers start drinking," said Dr. Edward J. Neafsey, one of the study's authors. "But moderate drinking - if truly moderate - can be beneficial."

The study also reported that the protective effect of moderate drinking was still substantial after adjusting the statistics for age, education, sex and smoking. There was no difference in the effects of the alcohol on men and women.  

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