Brain Development and Drinking Alcohol
by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.
Some people argue that no one should ever drink so long as their brain is developing. If that were true, no one would ever drink any alcoholic beverage. The human brain doesn’t stop developing at age 21 as alcohol activists often proclaim but it continues to develop and change throughout life.
Research indicates that moderate drinking helps maintain a well-functioning brain into old age. For example:
- A study of about 6,000 Americans age 65 and older in communities across the country found that moderate drinkers had a 54% lower chance of developing dementia than abstainers. 1
- A study of 15,807 Italians age 65 and older found that moderate consumption of alcohol greatly reduced the risk of developing cognitive (thinking) impairment. Abstainers were 53% more likely to suffer mental impairment than were drinkers. 2
- A study of 7,983 people age 55 and older in the Netherlands found that those who consumed one to drinks of alcohol per day had a significantly lower risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s) than did abstainers. 3
- A study of over 6,000 Britons over a period of 35 years found beneficial mental effects when a person drinks up to about 30 drinks per week, and increases with consumption. The researchers did not test the effects of higher levels of alcohol consumption. Abstainers were twice as likely to receive the lowest tests of mental functioning than were moderate drinkers. 4
- A study of more than 400 people age 75 and older in the Netherlands, who were tracked for a period of six years, found that drinkers were only half as likely to develop dementia as similarly- aged abstainers from alcohol. 5
- A study of 3,777 elderly French men and women over three years found that moderate alcohol consumption (two to four drinks per day, most often wine) reduced the risk of developing dementia by 80%. 6
- A study of over 1,000 Britons aged 65-79 who were monitored for an average of 23 years found that “drinking no alcohol, or too much, increases risk of cognitive impairment,” in the words of the editor of the British Medical Journal, where the research was published. 7 In other words, moderate drinking reduces the risk of cognitive impairment.
- A Harvard study of over 9,000 women aged 70 to 79 over a 14 year period found that women who drank in moderation performed significantly better on tests of cognitive functioning. 8
- An 18-year study of Japanese American men found that moderate drinking in middle age was associated with superior cognitive performance later in life. Moderate drinkers scored significantly higher on the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument (CASI), which includes tests of attention, concentration, orientation, memory, and language. Both abstainers and heavy drinkers had the poorest CASI scores. 9
- A 20-year Harvard study of 12,480 women age 70 and older found that moderate drinkers were much less likely than abstainers to experience poor memory and decreased thinking abilities. 10
- A University of Texas study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that older women who drank in moderation (up to two drinks per day) performed better than abstainers on tests of memory, attention, concentration, verbal-association capacities and oral fluency. 11
And the list goes on.
Beer, wine and liquor or distilled spirits have repeatedly been found to be equally effective in maintaining healthy brain functions.
Of course heavy drinking can cause serious health and other problems. The key is moderation.
- Moderate Alcohol Drinking Helps Memory
- Drinking Alcohol Improves Brain Functioning
- Moderate Drinking of Alcohol Improves Later Cognition
- Alcohol and Better Cognitive Ability
- Drinking Alcohol Helps Brain Cognition
- Moderate Alcohol Drinking Beneficial to Mental Functioning
- Drinking Alcohol and Dementia
- Drinking May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s
- Drinking Alcohol Good for Memory and Thinking
- Drinking and Dementia/Alzheimer’s
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