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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Moderate Alcohol Drinking May Cut Alzheimer's Risk

Study Suggests That Moderate Drinkers May Have Lower Risk of Developing Memory Problems
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 17, 2011 -- Moderate alcohol consumption may help stave off memory problems and/or Alzheimer's disease, a study shows.

Researchers reviewed 143 studies comprising more than 365,000 participants from 19 countries. Their analysis is published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.

Moderate drinking is defined as a maximum of one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. A standard drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.

Overall, moderate drinkers were 23% less likely to develop signs of memory problems or Alzheimer's disease. These benefits were seen in 14 of 19 countries, including the U.S., the study showed.

"This study is not the final word, but it does provide the most complete picture out there," says study researcher Michael A. Collins, PhD, of the department of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.

Exactly how moderate alcohol consumption may lower risk for memory problems is not fully understood, but alcohol may have anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation in the brain is thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia. Inflammation has also been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and even some cancers.

"Low levels of alcohol may have anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system, heart, and brain," he says.

The buzz word is neuroinflammation, and alcohol, in moderate amounts, may suppress neuroinflammation, but higher levels of alcohol may stimulate it, Collins says.

Drinkers vs. Non-Drinkers

Researchers reviewed 143 studies dating back as far as 1977. Of these, 74 compared risk between non-drinkers and drinkers and 69 looked at whether memory was better, worse, or equal among drinkers and non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers had a lower risk for dementia compared to non-drinkers. The benefit was the same among men and women.

Wine seemed to be more protective than beer or spirits, according to the new report. But most of the studies did not differentiate between types of alcohol so it would be premature to draw such a conclusion.

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