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Can You Lower Your Dementia Risk With a Few Drinks?

If you want to lower your dementia risk with a drink or two, stick to just one or two a week. LIght drinking is linked to less plaque in the brain.
Can You Lower Your Dementia Risk With a Few Drinks?
Woman drinking red wine on sunset mountains, close up of hand holding glass of wine. Elegant woman enjoying beautiful mountain and sea landscape on sunset

For years, scientists have been arguing about the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption against Alzheimers disease. They have been very uncertain whether having a few drinks a week would lower your dementia risk. Some studies suggest that drinking alcohol reduces the risk of this kind of dementia. Other research has found no effect, while a few studies even report an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in drinkers. There seems to be no question that people who drink to excess are harming their brains.

Will You Lower Your Dementia Risk If You Drink Moderately?

Now, a study from South Korea adds some intriguing new data to the debate (PLOS Medicine, Feb. 25, 2020). The investigators took advantage of an ongoing prospective study of brain aging. They recruited 414 men and women with an average age of 71. More than half (280) of these individuals had no cognitive impairment or alcohol-related problems. Another 134 people carried a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

These volunteers took a variety of tests including MRIs, PET scans, mental acuity tests. In addition, they answered questions about their alcohol consumption habits.

The Study Results Suggest Moderate Drinking May Benefit the Aging Brain:

People who had been consuming moderate amounts of alcohol for decades had substantially less amyloid beta plaques in their brains compared to nondrinkers. The scientists defined moderate alcohol consumption as one to 13 drinks per week. Moderate drinkers did not have any evidence in their brain images of degeneration specific to Alzheimer disease.

The authors concluded that

“The present findings from middle- and old-aged individuals with neither dementia nor alcohol-related disorders suggest that moderate lifetime alcohol intake may have a beneficial influence on AD by reducing pathological amyloid deposition.”

If you want to lower your dementia risk by lifting a glass, don’t exceed two drinks a day. In fact, a different study published recently found that about a drink a week was the threshold for benefits to the brain among older individuals (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Feb. 6, 2020). More than that amount appeared detrimental.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Kim JW et al, "Association of moderate alcohol intake with in vivo amyloid-beta deposition in human brain: A cross-sectional study." PLOS Medicine, Feb. 25, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003022
  • Koch M et al, "Alcohol consumption, brain amyloid-β deposition, and brain structural integrity among older adults free of dementia." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Feb. 6, 2020. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-190834
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