Women who enjoy a drink of beer or wine daily have sharper minds into old age than women who abstain, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.
The report, based on a study of nearly 12,500 nurses, adds to the apparent benefits of light to moderate drinking, which can also prevent heart disease and stroke. “Our study suggests that moderate consumption might provide older women some cognitive benefits,” said Dr. Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who worked on the study. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Grodstein and colleagues said they found that drinkers aged 70 to 81 were 20 percent less likely to experience a decline in their thinking skills over a two-year period than women who did not drink at all. On average, the women who quaffed a beer or a glass of wine each day tended to have the mental agility of someone a year and a half younger than abstainers. Drinking more than one glass of beer or wine didn’t produce a greater benefit, the researchers said. However, few of the nurses in the study were heavy drinkers. And it didn’t seem to matter whether the women drank wine or beer, according to the team, led by Dr. Meir Stampfer, also of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Moderate alcohol consumption, about a 12-ounce (0.35 liters) beer or a six-ounce (0.18 liters) glass of wine, is already known to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The Stampfer team speculated that the same effects that ward off cardiovascular conditions may also keep the blood vessels in the brain healthier, preventing small strokes that might impair thinking skills. The researchers used the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, in which the women filled out questionnaires about drinking habits and took a telephone survey designed to assess thinking skills. Whether alcohol produces long-term benefits is not known. In an editorial in the Journal, Dr. Denis Evans and Dr. Julia Bienias of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, cautioned that the findings are not conclusive. It may simply be, they said, “that older persons who are in good cognitive and physical health may be more likely than less healthy peers to indulge in low-to-moderate alcohol consumption as part of their social activities.” (Source: New England Journal of Medicine: Reuters Health: January 2005.)