New Evidence that Drinking Alcohol is Good for Your Brain

You’ve probably heard that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may be good for your heart. And now, a large, long-term study that followed nearly 1,400 older adults for 29 years just revealed its results. It appears that moderate-to-heavy consumption of alcohol can help you live longer and with a sharper brain than if you never drink at all.


Sharp to their 85th Year

Researchers conducted cognitive assessments on the study participants every four years. The results of their study focus on men and women who made it to their 85th birthday. About 88 percent of the group surveyed reported that they drank at least some alcohol. Half of that group drank moderate amounts. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than two glasses a day for men and one for women. A little less than half of the drinkers enjoyed an alcoholic beverage nearly every day.


Regular, Moderate Drinkers

The participants who drank “near daily” had significantly higher odds of successful cognitive aging than those who didn’t drink at all. They even showed better cognitive longevity than nondrinkers when scientists accounted for diet, exercise, education and tobacco use. The authors of the study point out that excessive drinking, such as chronic, binge-type drinking of more than four drinks a day, has negative impacts on health. But a regular, moderate intake of alcohol appears to play a role in maintaining a healthy brain as we age.

This study was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging, and it was conducted on white, middle-class Americans. It’s not known if drinkers from different ethnic or economic groups would experience the same or similar benefits.

Related: Keep Creative for a Better Brain


In Contrast with Another Study’s Findings

This study seems to have found the opposite of a recent grim study out of Norway that said regular drinking is linked to an increased risk of dementia compared to drinking only now and then. However, it appears that the Norway study focused on drinkers with a different consumption pattern than the one described in this article. Rather than imbibing one or two drinks a day, the Norway study participants drank five or more drinks in a 14-day period. It’s not clear how the study participants distributed those drinks over their two weeks. For example, maybe those five drinks were consumed as part of a weekend binge. And as we know, binge drinking has adverse health effects.

Researchers don’t know why they see this protective effect on the brain from moderate alcohol intake. Perhaps it helps to promote optimal vascular functioning in the brain, going hand-in-hand with the known heart-healthy benefits of sensible drinking. Alcohol also stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which has a beneficial effect on learning and memory, the study authors say. They also theorize that it’s possible that drinking alcohol helps to reduce stress. Experiencing less stress may also help to preserve cognitive function.


Don’t Forget the Risks

Of course, if you don’t drink now, especially if you’ve quit drinking due to difficulties with alcohol abuse, don’t start. Alcohol can make certain health problems worse, and it can interfere with medications. While drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may impart some health benefits, alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths every year in the United States alone. But if you do select to drink alcohol, it looks like consistent moderate drinking can help you to maintain your cognitive health throughout the years.


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