Research involving more than 7,000 older women found that those who drink a moderate amount of alcohol have slightly higher levels of mental function than non-drinkers, particularly in verbal abilities, according to researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues.
“Our research confirms other studies suggesting that for older women who choose to drink and are not restricted from drinking for medical reasons moderate alcohol intake is not harmful for cognition and may provide some mental benefits,” said Mark Espeland, Ph.D., lead author.
The study found that compared to non-drinkers, women who reported drinking up to two or three drinks per day performed better on measure of global cognitive function, which includes concentration, language, memory and abstract reasoning. The women were strongest in verbal skills: those who reported having at least one drink a day did better on vocabulary tests and on a word fluency test.
Espeland said that understanding whether alcohol affects specific areas of cognition may shed light on the mechanisms that makes it protective. Possible mechanisms include that alcohol increases levels of “good” cholesterol and lowers the risk of stroke, that it may decrease the formation of plaque that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and that it may increase the release of brain chemicals that affect learning and memory.
Source: Espeland MA et al, Neuroepidemiology 2006; 27: 1-12