According to the study’s senior author, BWH’s Francine Grodstein, Sc.D., “Much evidence has demonstrated the heart benefits of light alcohol drinking, but less research has focused on cognitive functioning. While we all continue to recommend exercising caution when consuming any type of alcohol, our study suggests that moderate consumption might provide older women some cognitive benefits.”
Researchers reviewed data from 12,480 women, 70 to 81 years old, who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study. They first collected alcohol consumption data as part of food-frequency questionnaires issued every few years between 1980 and 1998. Alcohol intake was measured in grams of beer, wine and liquor, with moderate consumption – one glass per day – defined as less than 15 grams per day. Then, from 1995-2002, women participated in telephone-based cognitive surveys in which general cognition and verbal memory and fluency were evaluated. Women who consumed less than 15 grams of alcohol per day – moderate drinkers – had better mean cognitive scores than nondrinkers. Researchers also found no significant difference in cognitive functioning among the nondrinkers and those who consumed more than one drink per day. Also, there did not seem to be any substantial difference in the effects of different forms of alcoholic beverages.
“Given our large study population, this body of research is now powerful enough to suggest continued research to ultimately better understand the impact moderate alcohol has on cognitive function,” said HSPH’s Meir Stampfer, M.D.