Thursday, November 27, 2014

In older people, moderate alcohol intake improves memory.

Articles like this work from Downer et al. make me worry less about the possible deleterious effects of the happy hour cocktail that is part of my daily ritual. Several studies have shown that light and moderate alcohol consumption during late life is associated with higher cognitive functioning among older adults and a decreased risk of dementia, and they now document relevant correlations with the volume of the hippocampus, which is important in memory. Their abstract, slightly edited:
This study utilized data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort to examine the relationship between midlife and late-life alcohol consumption, cognitive functioning, and regional brain volumes among older adults without dementia or a history of abusing alcohol. The results from multiple linear regression models indicate that late life, but not midlife, alcohol consumption status is associated with episodic memory and hippocampal volume. Compared to late life abstainers, moderate consumers had larger hippocampal volume, and light consumers had higher episodic memory. The differences in episodic memory according to late life alcohol consumption status were no longer significant when hippocampal volume was included in the regression model (This suggests that the observed relationship between alcohol consumption and episodic memory and alcohol consumption during old age may be due to larger hippocampal volume.) The findings from this study provide new evidence that hippocampal volume may contribute to the observed differences in episodic memory among older adults and late life alcohol consumption status.
The authors note that findings from animal studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may contribute to preserved hippocampal volume by promoting the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus. In addition, exposing the brain to moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the release of acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters that are involved in cognitive functioning.


  1. Anonymous10:45 AM

    We keep getting news of very favorable associations between alcohol consumption and good health. But its difficult getting accurate measures of alcohol consumption. In many countries, stated consumption is about one-half of actual sales of alcohol. Isn't it likely that recommended consumption should actually be 4 to 6 drinks a day (for men) rather than 2 to 3?

  2. I really can't answer your question, but agree with you. It does seem to me that the 2 drinks number is a bit stingy in defining 'a moderate amount' versus 'too much'. My daily cocktail is equivalent to 4-6 drinks a day.