Monday, October 14, 2002
October 14, 2002 06:04 PM ET
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK (Reuters Health)
Dr. Thomas Truelsen of the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen and his colleagues found that people who drank beer--even as infrequently as once per month--were more than twice as likely as non-beer drinkers to experience a deterioration in mental functioning, known as dementia, after age 65. In contrast, people who drank wine weekly were 70% less likely than wine-abstainers to develop dementia after age 65.
Regular consumption of spirits appeared to have no effect on dementia risk, the authors report.
However, Truelsen explained to Reuters Health that further research is needed before doctors can safely recommend that people drink wine to stave off dementia. The precise amount of alcohol that the study participants consumed throughout their lives is not clear, he noted, and, for some, drinking alcohol can do more harm than good.
"I'm not saying that people should drink wine," Truelsen cautioned.
Dementia is often caused by Alzheimer's disease, but it can have other causes, including Parkinson's disease and blood vessel disease that reduces blood flow to the brain.
The results of the current study are based on a review of alcohol drinking behavior collected for almost 2,000 people, including what they drank and how often. Fifteen years later, when all participants were at least 65 years old, the authors contacted them and compared past drinking behaviors for those who did and those who did not eventually develop dementia.
Because beverage choice can be related to socioeconomic status--which can influence healthy behavior in general--the researchers took the study participants' income and education into account.
Truelsen and his team found that 83 men and women had developed dementia, while another 1,626 remained dementia-free. Comparing mental function to drinking behavior, the researchers found that people who regularly drank beer, at any frequency, were more than twice as likely to develop dementia in old age. However, people who drank wine weekly were 70% less to develop later mental impairments, and monthly wine drinkers saw a 60% drop in dementia risk.
Daily wine drinkers were no less likely than non-wine drinkers to develop dementia in old age.
The authors presented their findings here Monday at the 127th annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.
The study cannot prove that wine intake prevents dementia--some other lifestyle factor could be responsible for the association. However, Truelsen explained in an interview that red wine contains substances known as flavonoids, antioxidants that help protect blood vessels from harmful substances called free radicals. Free radicals are naturally occurring particles that have been linked to Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, a type of dementia that results from a reduction in the supply of blood to the brain.
He emphasized that the present study is not meant to encourage people to drink wine, but rather to help inform the debate regarding the potential health benefits of antioxidants and encourage further studies.