Consuming alcohol in moderation has long been known to benefit the heart, bone and brain. However, according to a new study published online in Neurology, middle aged men defined as heavy drinkers who had an average of about three or more drinks daily showed faster declines in cognitive function compared to lighter drinkers.
Dr. SÃ©verine Sabia and colleagues from University College London looked at data from about 7000 participants in the Whitehall II cohort study, which began in the 1980s and followed the individuals until 2009. Average age of participants at the beginning of follow-up was 56. Using the survey data, researchers divided participants into six groups by drinking status: complete abstainers, those who stopped drinking during follow-up, occasional drinkers, and three categories defined as regular drinkers (encompassing light, moderate and heavy drinking). The memory and executive function scores for the heaviest male drinkers fell by about 0.10 points more than those of men defined as light drinkers. In general, declines were greater in memory than in executive function. The same results were not seen in the heaviest female drinkers, and researchers actually reported slower short-term memory
However, there were several limitations of the study. Dr. Marc Gordon, chief of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY, says that other factors not examined in the study could have influenced the results such as secondary nutritional differences associated with drinking, other unhealthy lifestyle factors [and] predisposition to head injury. Additionally, the study was based on self-reported data which may not be accurate.
ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, The results of this study are pretty consistent with the literature that has been published in the past. The message being driven home by this study is that there is nothing wrong with engaging in moderate drinking. However, when moderate drinking moves into the heavy drinking category, there may be detrimental health effects.