While social drinking can make it hard to remember what happened last Saturday night, a new study by Loyola University suggests it could help prevent cognitive impairment in the long run.
An analysis of 143 studies by Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine found that moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia compared to non-drinkers, according to a press release issued by the school. Researchers defined moderate drinking as a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
To evaluate this theory, study authors Edward J. Neafsey and Michael A. Collins, both professors in the school’s Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, reviewed studies dating back to 1977 that included more than 365,000 participants. 74 papers calculated the ratios of risk between drinkers and nondrinkers, while 69 papers evaluated whether cognition in drinkers was better, the same, or worse than in nondrinkers.
“We don’t recommend that nondrinkers start drinking,” Neafsey said in the release. “But moderate drinking–if it is truly moderate–can be beneficial.”
The study found no difference in the effects of alcohol on men and women, and the positive effect of moderate drinking held up when they adjusted for age, education, sex and smoking. Wine was found to be more beneficial than beer or spirits.
While it is unknown why moderate drinking appears to have a positive effect on cognitive health, researchers posited several theories: alcohol consumption raises good HDL cholesterol, and can improve blood flow and metabolism in the brain. In moderate amounts, alcohol could also “toughen” brain cells by stressing them in small increments, preparing them to cope with major stresses later in life that could cause dementia.
The researchers note that there are other things, besides moderate drinking, that can reduce the risk of dementia, including exercise, education and a diet high in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Gardening has even been shown to reduce the risk of dementia in some instances, but who was looking for an excuse to keep doing that?