Moderate drinking may be good for the brain. Researchers found that older men and women who had a habit of drinking, on average, from one to 13 alcoholic beverages a week for much of their lives had fewer brain deposits of beta-amyloid, the toxic protein that clumps together to form the telltale brain plaques of Alzheimer’s disease.
For the study, Korean researchers studied 414 men and women, most in their 60s and 70s. None had dementia or health problems related to alcohol abuse.
They were carefully interviewed about their drinking habits, including how many drinks they had in a typical week. They also got tests of memory and thinking skills, as well as brain scans using PET and MRI scans.
The researchers found that those who drank moderately had a 66 percent lower rate of beta-amyloid deposits in their brains. Moderate alcohol consumption is typically defined as no more than one drink a day for women and one to two drinks daily for men, and no more than 14 drinks per week. A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1.5 ounces of 40-proof vodka or spirits with a similar alcohol content.
The researchers corrected for factors like weight, education, socioeconomic status and various medical conditions that can affect brain health, and confirmed that drinking seemed to protect against the deposition of beta-amyloid.
Those who had taken up moderate drinking only recently did not show signs of less beta-amyloid in the brain. The findings appeared in PLOS Medicine.
The study’s senior author, Dr. Dong Young Lee, a professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University College of Medicine, said that the findings were only a correlation and could not prove cause and effect. But, he noted, moderate drinking appears to be helpful for brain health.
A growing body of evidence indicates that moderate alcohol consumption may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. A report from Australia, for example, found that people over 60 who drank moderately had a 30 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s as they age. Another large study of nurses found that those who consumed a drink a day or less, on average, tended to perform better on memory tests than those who abstained from alcohol entirely or drank more heavily.
The traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes moderate amounts of red wine along with heart-healthy foods like fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, has been linked to a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is not recommended and increases the risk of serious health problems, including an increased risk of memory problems with age. Nondrinkers should not take up drinking to stave off Alzheimer’s, experts say, since the brain benefits are likely modest, and some former teetotalers may drink to excess.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: Jee Wook Kim,Min Soo Byun, Dahyun Yi, et al: “Association of moderate alcohol intake with in vivo amyloid-beta deposition in human brain: A cross-sectional study.” PLOS Medicine, Feb. 25, 2020