22 May 2007

Light drinking vs. dementia

People with mild cognitive impairment may slow their mental decline if they have up to one alcoholic drink a day, a new Italian study suggests.

People with mild cognitive impairment may slow their mental decline if they have up to one alcoholic drink a day, a new Italian study suggests.

Researchers followed 121 people with mild cognitive impairment and looked at the impact of their drinking habits, to see if moderate alcohol use might slow the progression to dementia. The participants were aged 65 to 84 at the study start and were followed for three and a half years.

Those who were cognitively impaired at the start of the study and had up to one alcoholic drink a day, typically wine, developed dementia at a 85 percent slower rate than those with cognitive impairment who abstained, the researchers reported.

The study results are published in the May 22 issue of Neurology.

More studies needed
Dr Denis Evans, director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Ageing at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said that while the study is interesting, its value is limited by the small number of participants. "That is not saying the study is worthless at all," he said, just that more research needs to be done.

In a statement, study authors Dr Vincenzo Solfrizzi and Dr Francesco Panza, with the Department of Geriatrics at the University of Bari, said: "While many studies have assessed alcohol consumption and cognitive function in the elderly, this is the first study to look at how alcohol consumption affects the rate of progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia."

Earlier studies have yielded mixed results about whether alcohol consumption helps cognitive function. Exactly how moderate alcohol intake might help thinking is not known. But Solfrizzi speculated that alcohol might somehow help keep the brain's blood vessels healthier. Some other research has found that alcohol increases the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which helps neurons communicate with each other.

The study participants were part of a larger study, called the Italian Longitudinal Study on Ageing, and were asked in 1992 about alcohol and food consumption. They were given a standard exam to evaluate their cognitive functioning. Then, the researchers zeroed in on the 121 people found to have mild cognitive impairment. They classified these people as "abstainers," "moderate" or "more than moderate" drinkers.

Benefit only for light drinking
The link between alcohol and delayed mental decline was found only for those people who had less than a drink a day, not for those who drank more, the researchers said.

Of the 55 people who drank less than a drink a day, three progressed to dementia during the three-and-a-half year follow-up period. Six of the 23 abstainers went on to develop dementia. Three of the 22 who had one or two drinks a day developed dementia, while two of the 21 who had more than two drinks a day did.

People who drink moderately may be in better physical and mental shape to begin with, Evans suggested. "People who are drinking a glass of wine a day are not those who are very sick or those in bad shape," he said. "On average, the people who tend to consume a little alcohol every day are healthier than those who don't. It's a social thing." – (HealthDayNews)

Read more:
Alzheimer’s Centre
Alcohol can shrink your brain

May 2007


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