Women who drink a little wine, beer or spirits every day are less likely than non-drinkers to have their memories and other thinking powers fade as they age, according to the largest study to assess alcohol’s impact on the brain.
The study of more than 12,000 elderly women found that those who consumed light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily had about a 20% lower risk of experiencing problems with their mental abilities later in life.
“Low levels of alcohol appear to have cognitive benefits,” said Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, senior author on the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
While the study involved only women, the findings probably hold true for men. Pevious research indicates that men seem to benefit from drinking slightly more – one to two drinks per day, researchers 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,” said Marilyn S. Albert of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, speaking on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. “So now we have two reasons to do it.”
Alcohol appears to protect the brain in the same way that it guards the heart: by improving blood flow. It may also reduce the risk of small “silent” strokes, which can cause subtle brain damage that erodes mental powers.