Page last updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Moderate drinking, especially of wine, is associated with better cognitive function and less dementia

A large prospective study of 5033 men and women in the Tromsø Study in northern Norway has reported that moderate wine consumption was independently associated with better performance on cognitive tests.  The subjects (average age 58 and free of stroke) were followed over 7 years when they were tested with a battery of cognitive function tests. Among women, there was a lower risk of a poor testing score for those who  consumed wine at least 4 or more times over two weeks in comparison with those who drink < 1 time during this period The expected associations between other risk factors for poor cognitive functioning were seen: lower testing scores among people who were older, less educated, smokers, and those with depression, diabetes, or hypertension. 
It has long been known that “moderate people do moderate things.”  The authors state the same thing: “A positive effect of wine . . . could also be due to confounders such as socio-economic status and more favorable dietary and other lifestyle habits”.
The authors also reported that not drinking was associated with significantly lower cognitive performance in women.  As noted by the authors, in any observational study there is the possibility of other lifestyle habits affecting cognitive function, and the present study was not able to adjust for certain ones (such as diet, income, or profession) but did adjust for age, education, weight, depression, and cardiovascular disease as its major risk factors. 
The results of this study support findings from previous research on the topic:  In the last three decades, the association between moderate alcohol intake and cognitive function has been investigated in 68 studies comprising 145,308 men and women from various populations with various drinking patterns.  Most studies show an association between light to moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia, including both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. 
Such effects could relate to the presence in wine of a number of polyphenols (antioxidants) and other micro elements that may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline with ageing.  Mechanisms that have been suggested for alcohol being protective against cognitive function include effects on atherosclerosis ( hardening of the arteries), coagulation ( thickening of the blood and clotting), and reducing inflammation ( of artery walls, improving blood flow).
Source:  Arntzen KA, Schirmer H, Wilsgaard T, Mathiesen EB.  Moderate wine consumption is associated with better cognitive test results: a 7 year follow up of 5033 subjects in the Tromsø Study.  Acta Neurol Scand 2010; Suppl 190:23-29.
References
1. Truelsen T, Thudium D, Grønbæk M.  Amount and type of alcohol and risk of dementia. The Copenhagen City Heart Study.  Neurology 2002;59:1313-1319.
2. Tjønneland A, Grønbæk M, Stripp C, Overvad K.  Wine intake and diet in a random sample of 48,763 Danish men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:49-54.
3. Johansen D, Friis K, Skovenborg E, Grønbæk M.  Food buying habits of people who buy wine or beer: cross sectional study. BMJ 2006;332:519-522.
4. Arntzen KA, Schirmer H, Wilsgaard T, Mathiesen EB.  Moderate wine consumption is associated with better cognitive test results: a 7 year follow up of 5,033 subjects in the Tromsø Study.  Acta Neurol Scand Suppl 2010;190:23-29.
5. Collins MA, Neafsey EJ, Mukamal KJ, Gray MO, Parks DA, Das DK, Korthuis RJ.  Alcohol in moderation, cardioprotection, and neuroprotection: Epidemiological considerations and mechanistic studies.  Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2009;33:206–219.
Contributions to these comments from the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research were from the following:
David Vazour, PhD, Dept. of Food and Nutritional Sciences, The University of Reading, UK
Ross McCormick PhD, MSC, MBChB, Associate Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Section of Preventive Medicine & Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Erik Skovenborg, MD, Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, Practitioner, Aarhus, Denmark 
Gordon Troup, MSc, DSc, School of Physics, Monash University, Victoria, Australia

For the detailed critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, go to www.alcoholforum4profs.org

 

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