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August 17, 2011
MAYWOOD, Ill.Moderate consumption of alcohol, which means up to two drinks a day for men and one for women, may help reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment by 23%, according to a new study published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.
Researchers at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine analyzed 143 studies dating to 1977 that included more than 365,000 participants. Moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Heavy drinking, defined as more than three to five drinks per day, was associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, but the finding was not statistically significant.
The researchers noted wine was more beneficial than beer or spirits; however, the finding was based on a relatively small number of studies because most papers did not distinguish among different types of alcohol.
The researchers said the protective effect of moderate drinking remained after they factored in age, education, sex and smoking, and that the effects of alcohol were the same in men and women. The association between moderate drinking and reduced risk of dementia and cognitive impairment was statistically significant in 14 of 19 countries, including the United States.
Previous research has suggested well-known cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, such as raising good HDL cholesterol, also can improve blood flow in the brain and thus brain metabolism. The Loyola researchers also theorized small amounts of alcohol might, in effect, make brain cells more fit. Alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia.
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