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Moderate Alcohol Use Seems to Help Aging Brain

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Drinking minimal to moderate amounts of alcohol may help keep mental functions sharper as you age, recent research suggests.

Reuters reported Nov. 3 that a study by researchers at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh found that seniors age 65 and older who drank small to moderate amounts of alcohol outperformed nondrinkers of the same age on tests that measured general mental status, executive functions, and psychomotor speed. The moderate drinkers also did better on tests of learning and naming than nondrinkers.

“Health professionals have generally paid more attention to alcohol abuse and dependence and their adverse consequences,” said study author Dr. Mary Ganguli. “Our study suggests that we should also consider the potential benefits of more modest patterns of alcohol use.”

Some of the biggest differences were seen when current moderate drinkers were compared to former drinkers. “This does not necessarily mean that quitting is bad for people; it is probably more likely that people quit drinking because of poor health or failing cognition,” Ganguli said.

Ganguli said the broader results could be because moderate alcohol consumption is good for cardiac health, but she also said it is possible that seniors who drank moderately were simply healthier overall than nondrinkers. “What is needed now is not for people to run out and get drunk in the hope of preserving their brains, but for more studies to be conducted on the precise effects of alcohol on brain structure and function,” Ganguli said.

The study was published in the October 2005 issue of the journal Neurology.

Ganguli M., Vander Bilt J., Saxton J. A., Shen C., and Dodge H. H. (2005) Alcohol consumption and cognitive function in late life: A longitudinal community study. Neurology 2005 65, 1210-1217.

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