Low-to-moderate drinkers may have cognitive edge over non-drinkers

It’s always fun to read about the health benefits of guilty pleasures… like drinking coffee, looking at cat memes or indulging in a glass of 2009 vintage cabernet sauvignon with dinner.

You’ve probably received a lot of mixed messages about the last one on this list. One day you hear that red wine (or beer) is good for you. The next day you hear that any drinking (even a little bit) comes with terrible health consequences.

But in general, it seems like most doctors and medical researchers agree that low-to-moderate drinking is relatively safe. It won’t put your health in serious danger… and may even provide some health perks, like better brain health.

In fact, a new study shows that people who drink low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol have better thinking and memory skills than those who don’t.

Low-to-moderate drinkers perform better on cognitive tests

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia, California State University and Capital Medical University in Beijing just confirmed that a cocktail or two per day is good for your cognitive skills as you age.

In the study, researchers looked at data from an ongoing federal government health study that included close to 20,000 people. These people, who were an average age of 62 when the study started, had their health and lifestyle habits tracked for around nine years. And here’s what researchers found…

People who practiced low to moderate drinking had a lower rate of cognitive decline and better cognitive function in their middle and later years — a time when many people’s cognitive abilities begin to get worse.

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More specifically, low-to-moderate drinkers performed better on tests that gauged memory (word recall), overall mental status (knowledge and language) and vocabulary.

There was, however, one catch I want to mention here. The brain benefits of low to moderate drinking only applied to white people in the study. Black people didn’t experience the same benefits, unfortunately, and researchers aren’t sure why.

This isn’t the first time the occasional drink has been linked to better cognitive skills. One previous study found that people who were an average of 73 years old who practiced moderate alcohol consumption had better cognitive health. An ongoing Nurses’ Health Study also found that drinking one drink per day appeared to slow cognitive decline for women in their 70s.

How to lower your Alzheimer’s risk by up to 60 percent

Now you may be wondering what exactly constitutes low-to-moderate drinking…

Well, in this study it was less than eight drinks per week for women and less than 15 drinks per week for men. So, roughly one to two drinks per day. If you already enjoy a drink or two with dinner, this is a good excuse to keep doing what you’re doing.

If you’re not much of a drinker, there’s no need to start now. Even though low-to-moderate drinking is relatively safe, it can have negative impacts on your body if, say, you’re at high risk for atrial fibrillation or stroke. So, think about your personal health risks and do your research before embracing a nightly drinking habit.

If you’re really looking to boost your brain health, you should also consider adopting these healthy habits:

  • Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous exercise per week
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
  • Staying intellectually engaged

Research shows these habits combined with a low-to-moderate drinking habit can lower your Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 60 percent.

Sources:

  1. A drink or two a day might be good for your brain, study says — MedicalXpress.
  2. Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults — JAMA Network Open.
  3. Combination of healthy lifestyle traits may substantially reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk — MedicalXpress.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.