March 2, 2011 -- Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may protect against dementia, according to a new study in the journal Age and Ageing.
Among Germans aged 75 and older, those who drank two to three drinks a day decreased their risk of dementia by as much as 60% percent compared to those who abstained.
German researchers followed more than 3,000 people across Germany for three years. At the time that the study began, none had been diagnosed with any form of dementia. Each study participant -- or, in the case of illness or death, their doctor, caregiver, or other family member -- was interviewed and assessed at home at the beginning of the study, 18 months later, and a final time at the three-year mark. At the end, data were available for all but 49 of the original study participants.
During those three years, 217 cases of dementia were diagnosed, including 111 cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who drank alcohol were 29% less likely to have dementia compared to those who did not drink alcohol.
Drinking and Alzheimer’s Risk
Looking specifically at the data for Alzheimer’s dementia, researchers found that those who drank alcohol were 42% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The researchers did not have enough data to determine how much protection alcohol offers against specific forms of dementia, such as vascular dementia, Parkinson’s-related dementia, and Lewy body dementia.
While the results were strongest among those who drank two to three alcoholic beverages a day, the researchers concluded that any amount of alcohol had some preventative qualities. That does not mean that more is better, however. Overindulging in alcohol on a daily basis is unhealthy at any age, and chronic alcohol abuse can cause its own type of dementia. Fourteen participants in the study were diagnosed with alcohol-induced dementia.
“What is important is that this is not seen as a green light to hit the bottle,” Anne Corbett, PhD, research manager of the U.K.-based Alzheimer’s Society, says in a news release. “As well as many other health dangers, heavy drinking has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. The best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.”