Think that a drink or two a day help keep your mind sharp into older age? Researchers from the United Kingdom may have poked a hole into that idea.
Dr Claudia Cooper, at University College London, and colleagues note in a study that moderate drinkers - generally that's two drinks a day for men and one for women - tend to have less forgetfulness and better mental skills as they age.
However, moderate drinkers also tend to have social, economic, and educational advantages that help them amass greater thinking skills over time.
A report by Cooper's team in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, suggests that it's these advantages - and not moderate drinking itself - that are responsible for the benefits.
Cooper's team evaluated social, economic, and physical factors, plus thinking skills, in 1,735 men and women 60 to 74 years old. Most - about 87% - of the participants reported drinking moderately or abstaining. The rest had histories that suggested problem drinking, and were excluded from the study.
They tested how well the participants could read words pronounced differently from how they are spelled, which indicates how much of their early-learned reading skills each retained into older age.
It's also a skill that isn't lost until mental function declines a great deal, Cooper told Reuters Health, which makes it a good indicator of previously obtained thinking skills.
General health considered
When Cooper's team only took social and economic factors into account, they saw an association between moderate alcohol consumption and greater thinking abilities, similar to findings reported in earlier studies.
But when they allowed for current thinking skills, and the fact that participants with greater physical health were also more likely to drink more, the association between moderate drinking and current thinking skills disappeared.
The authors note that the American Heart Association recently warned against putting too much stock in the link between moderate drinking and better thinking skills, and that more than three drinks per day are linked to a variety of medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke. - (Joene Hendry/Reuters Health, November 2009)
SOURCE: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, November 2009.