Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is bad for the brain, but new research from Germany suggests that a daily drink or two may help protect seniors from Alzheimer's disease and some other types of dementia. A team of physicians, psychologists and gerontologists interviewed 3,327 patients of German general practice doctors, checked on them a year and a half later and then at the three year mark. When they analyzed the drinking habits of the study participants, they found that half were abstinent, about 25 percent drank less than one drink (10 grams of alcohol) daily, about 13 percent consumed 10 to 19 grams of alcohol daily and 12.4 percent drank 20 grams or more daily. Nearly half of those who consumed alcohol drank only wine. At the end of three years, the researchers found 217 cases of dementia, including 111 Alzheimer’s diagnoses. They also found that the subjects who reported light to moderate alcohol consumption were in relatively good mental and physical health and had a significantly lower incidence of overall dementia and Alzheimer's. The study was published in the March 2, 2011, issue of Age and Aging.
My take? This isn't the first study to suggest that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol protects against Alzheimer's disease, and we also know that it also appears to lower the risks of coronary artery disease and heart attack. However, even small amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer, and the more women drink, the greater their risk. My feeling is that if you don't drink alcohol, you certainly shouldn’t start for health reasons. You can reduce your risks of heart disease via diet and exercise, and evidence suggests that we may be able to protect against Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by "exercising" our minds. My own drinking habits are quite modest. I like premium Japanese sake once in a while and, less often, a glass of red wine. Otherwise, I am more likely to drink water or tea.