SOME CHEERS FOR THOSE LITTLE GREY CELLS
Because of an irresponsible minority, alcohol has been blamed for quite a list of health hazards. However, research has shown that there is a list, probably equally as long, of health benefits that may be derived from sensible drinking. One of the more surprising suggests that booze can offer at least one cerebral benefit. It may reduce an aging drinker’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and some other forms of dementia
It is now well established that alcohol, particularly red wine, can be good for the heart by boosting ‘good’ cholesterol and inhibiting the formation of clots in the blood. Indeed the Spanish government have recently passed a new wine law that encourages the consumption of wine as part of a well-balanced ‘Mediterranean’ diet. Now, research carried out over a decade at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, has indicated that moderate consumption of alcohol may reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 40%.
The research, led by Dr Monique Breteler, studied almost 8,000 people aged 55 and older, none of whom showed any signs of dementia at the start of the study. Approximately 27% were moderate drinkers (between 1 and 3 drinks per day); 50% reportedly consumed less than one drink a day; 20% were total abstainers and a tiny 3% acknowledged taking more than four drinks each day.
Over the period of study, 197 people went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease (146) or some other form of dementia (51). This represented an overall risk of 3.65% amongst the study group. However, the risk amongst the non-drinkers, light-drinkers and heavy-drinkers was considered significantly higher, at some 4%, than the 2.6% found amongst the group of moderate drinkers. When the raw statistics were adjusted for age, sex, smoking habits and other factors known to influence dementia, the team concluded that moderate drinkers ran only 58% of the risk of the others in the study.
Moderate drinkers had an even more marked decrease in vascular dementia, a condition in which blockages in blood vessels in the brain cause recurring, minor strokes that gradually erode cognitive ability. The researchers hypothesize that since vascular disorders are linked to dementia in elderly people, alcohol’s benefits to blood vessels might indirectly sustain brain function.
Jean-Marc Orgogozo, a neurological epidemiologist at the University of Bordeaux in France hails the study. He and his colleagues have found that French wine drinkers over the age of 65 have a reduced risk of dementia. The new research supports that finding and shows that beer and hard liquor—not just wine—are protective.
John R. Copeland, a psychiatrist who’s retired from the University of Liverpool in England, calls the Dutch finding “very interesting but not unexpected.” Although Copeland’s research suggested that heavy, long-term drinking reduces cognitive ability in elderly men, people who show benefits in the new study consumed alcohol in more modest, “therapeutic quantities,” he says.
Frank Caddy, chief executive of NI Drinks Industry Group (NIDIG) welcomes these results “So, the brain now joins the list of organs in our body that may show true appreciation of the odd drink. It supports our argument that alcohol, in moderation, may be safely included as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle. However, over-indulgence can actually damage your health, so be smart and remember ‘Moderation – you know it makes sense!”
For further information, contact Frank Caddy at NIDIG 028 90 422349
Ref: Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: the Rotterdam Study Volume 359, Number 9303 26 January 2002 The Lancet Monique M B Breteler et al Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics