Can one glass of wine a day slow down dementia?

There are benefits to limited alcohol consumption. Sanjay Tanday reports.

What is the story?
Having a glass of wine a day could help to preserve memory for longer, according to recent media reports.

Italian researchers found that people with mild cognitive impairment who drank one alcoholic drink a day developed dementia at an 85 per cent slower rate than people with mild cognitive impairment who abstained. But drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day did not help to slow down dementia.

It is estimated that 700,000 people in the UK have dementia. This figure is expected to reach 1.75 million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer's Society.

Previous research looked at alcohol consumption and cognitive impairment in the elderly, but this was the first study to look at how drinking alcohol affected the rate of progression of dementia.

What is the research?
The reports are based on an Italian study that evaluated alcohol consumption on the incidence of mild cognitive impairment and its progression to dementia in 1,445 people aged 65-84. The researchers followed-up 121 people with mild cognitive impairment for three and a half years.

Information on alcohol consumption was collected at the beginning of the study.

Each participant was asked questions about how much alcohol they had consumed per day in the previous year, as well as other lifestyle questions such as smoking status.

The mini mental state examination was used to evaluate cognitive function and dementia in the participants at the end of the study. This study showed that 14 of the 121 participants developed dementia.

Participants with mild cognitive impairment who consumed one alcoholic drink a day, containing approximately 15g of alcohol, had a decreased rate of progression to dementia of 85 per cent.

Of those participants that drank alcohol, most reported drinking wine. However, the rate of progression to dementia did not vary according to the type of alcoholic beverage consumed.

No significant association was found between any levels of drinking and the incidence of dementia.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr Vincenzo Solfrizzi, from the department of geriatrics at the University of Bari, said that while many studies had assessed alcohol consumption and cognitive function in the elderly, this was the first study to look at how alcohol consumption affects the rate of progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

'The mechanism responsible for why low alcohol consumption appears to protect against the progression to dementia is not known,' he said.

'However, it is possible that the arrangement of blood vessels in the brain may play a role in why alcohol consumption appears to protect against dementia.'

Other observations that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect the brain from stroke and vascular dementia would support this theory, added Dr Solfrizzi.

What do the experts say?
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Trust, said: 'The key finding is moderation. Excessive drinking can and does cause neurological damage to the brain, memory loss and in severe cases alcohol-related dementia.'

Teetotallers are not recommended to start drinking, she added.

Informing patients

  • Having one alcoholic drink a day can slow down the progression of dementia by 85 per cent in those with mild cognitive impairment, compared to non-drinkers.
  • Drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day did not help to slow down dementia.
  • Further research is required to understand how low alcohol consumption may protect against dementia.
What do you think? Comment below or email us at GPletters@haymarket.com

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