Moderate Drinking in Your Golden Years Might Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Drinking alcohol regularly and moderately may help keep your brain sharp. (Photo: Getty Images)

You may want to raise your glass for this news.

According to a study published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, older adults who consume alcohol moderately on a regular basis are more likely to live to the age of 85 without dementia or other cognitive impairments than nondrinkers.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine studied 1,344 older white-collar, middle- to upper-middle-class adults (728 women and 616 men) from one suburb in its area and assessed their brain health every four years during the course of 29 years. Most participants (88 percent) reported some current alcohol intake; some 49 percent reported drinking moderately, and 48 percent reported drinking nearly every day.

As defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, moderate drinking involves consuming up to one alcoholic beverage a day for adult women of any age and men 65 and older, while adult men younger than 65 can have up to two drinks a day. Heavy drinking is defined as up to three alcoholic beverages per day for women of any adult age and men 65 and older, and four drinks a day for adult men under 65. Drinking more than these amounts is categorized as excessive.

It’s important to note the investigators indicated that few individuals in their research fell under the binge-type drinking category, and one researcher noted that long-term excessive alcohol intake is known to cause alcohol-related dementia.

“This study shows that moderate drinking may be part of a healthy lifestyle to maintain cognitive fitness in aging,” lead author Erin Richard said in a press release.

“We’ve had some studies in the past that have suggested this might be the case as well,” Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and associate professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Yahoo Beauty. “However, what is different here is that this study brings in the concept of frequency — not just the fact that people drink, but they’re drinking with some regularity.”

She points out that although this study is “interesting” and offers “[some] strengths, since they did try to control for many things, including smoking and physical activity,” it does come with some limitations. “I would ask to see the same study with a more diverse group of people, with people of different socioeconomic status and in different parts of the world,” suggests Caudle. “Also, what type of alcohol makes the biggest difference? Is it spirits? Is it wine? Is it red wine?”

But before you make plans for a night out on the town, she offers a word of caution.

“This is not a license for people to go out drinking when they haven’t before,” stresses Caudle. “People are usually concerned about the risks of drinking, and there are people who should not drink alcohol at all — minors, pregnant women, people with certain medical conditions, and those who take certain medications. So we still have to keep these things in mind that we know to be true, as well as the risks of abuse and misuse.”

Overall, Caudle concludes that the study sheds light on the fact that moderate and regular drinking could make a difference in cognition. “There’s still a lot to learn, though,” she says. “And that’s what we have to keep in mind. It’s important to look at these types of studies as pieces of a puzzle.”

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