An ongoing study of New York City residents published in the rapid access issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association has found improved cognition in moderate drinking women.
Women consuming up to two drinks a day scored about 20 percent higher on the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) than women who didn’t drink at all or who consumed less than one drink a week according to Clinton Wright, M.D., M.S., lead author of the study and assistant professor of neurology at the College of Physicians and surgeons of Columbia University in New York. “The difference remained after adjusting for risk factors such as income, marital status, race or ethnicity and other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cardiac disease.”
The researchers said they were surprised by the lack of association between carotid plaque and alcohol consumption. Other research had suggested that alcohol consumption might slow the progression of plaque, the fatty material that builds up in arteries and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“This study suggests that the relationship between alcohol and cognition was not mediated by large vessel atherosclerosis,” Wright said. “Future studies previous studies have included blacks or Hispanics, who have higher rates of cerebrovascular disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers assessed alcohol intake in structured interviews, while carotid artery plaque was measured by carotid ultrasound.
The participants were divided into five groups based on alcohol consumption: Never drinkers (509), Past drinkers (494), Seldom drinkers, less than one drink a week (300), Moderate drinkers, up to two drinks a day (796) and those who had more than two drinks a day (116)
Wright cautioned that the study is limited by the use of the MMSE, which “is not a very sensitive test and doesn’t address a number of cognitive domains that would be assessed by a more sensitive neuropsychiatric evaluation. Such a study is currently ongoing in this cohort.” Despite study limitations, the results support observations that moderate drinking is protective in women and do not support large vessel atherosclerosis as a mediating factor.
Source: Wright CB et al. Alcohol Intake, Carotid Plaque, and Cognition. The Northern Manhattan Study. Stroke 2006. http://stroke.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/01.STR.0000217439.73041.b