Studies continue to conclude that moderate drinking reduces Alzheimer's, the only known dietary method for doing so, but we're not allowed to tell anyone, SO KEEP IT ON THE QT!

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 1, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Don't Blame Me! - Alcohol is the only way to prevent Alzheimer's

One modern scourge that all of us seniors fear is Alzheimer's Disease -- the progressive loss of mental functioning.  Movies, PSAs, medical shows address it endlessly (I just watched Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the Emmy-award winning chief medical correspondent for CNN and a practicing neurosurgeon, discuss it).

And there is no known way to prevent it -- except for consuming alcohol, which NO ONE is gong to tell you. (Gupta, whom I admire, said only that we know very little about how to prevent it.)

PLEASE DON'T BLAME ME FOR THIS FINDING.

Okay, I was the first to publish it, more than a decade ago, in 2000 with Archie Brodsky in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence(1).

Important cognitive benefits demonstrated for moderate drinking

A range of recent results across varied populations and utilizing different measures of cognitive functioning have found that long-term cognitive functioning is often superior for moderate drinkers relative to abstainers. This research, usually involving older populations, includes a number of prospective studies as well as a comparison of MZ twins who either drank moderately or abstained. The status of the research in this area resembles that of research on CAD and drinking a decade and more ago; we now see "second generation" studies emerging (testing hypotheses generated in earlier research). But considerably more research needs to be done to permit meta-analyses in the area. . . . Furthermore, investigation of the mechanisms by which alcohol consumption might improve cognitive performance could strengthen or weaken the case for a causal relationship. . . .

But forget me.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (for 2010, released in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), only mentions dementia in one place.  Googling "Dietary Guidelines for America," the top hit I get is "Alcohol May Increase Life Expectancy, Reduce Risk Of Dementia ":

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Monday. There weren't many surprises in its recommendations to reduce fat and salt, eat whole grains, and cut the overall amount we eat.

But here's one thing that might surprise you. Chapter Three, titled "Foods and Food Components to Reduce," deals with alcohol. The Guidelines, created by America's leading health researchers, state: "Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation (up to two drinks daily). Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age."

But don't believe the Dietary Guidelines.  Here is a report issued by a consortium of leading medical researchers in the most prestigious alcoholism journal in the United States (2),

In contrast to many years of important research and clinical attention to the pathological effects of alcohol (ethanol) abuse, the past several decades have seen the publication of a number of peer-reviewed studies indicating the beneficial effects of light-moderate, nonbinge consumption of varied alcoholic beverages, as well as experimental demonstrations that moderate alcohol exposure can initiate typically cytoprotective mechanisms. A considerable body of epidemiology associates moderate alcohol consumption with significantly reduced risks of coronary heart disease and, albeit currently a less robust relationship, cerebrovascular (ischemic) stroke. . . .In over half of nearly 45 reports since the early 1990s, significantly reduced risks of cognitive loss or dementia in moderate, nonbinge consumers of alcohol (wine, beer, liquor) have been observed, whereas increased risk has been seen only in a few studies. Physiological explanations for the apparent CNS benefits of moderate consumption have invoked alcohol's cardiovascular and/or hematological effects, but there is also experimental evidence that moderate alcohol levels can exert direct "neuroprotective" actions.

Thus, it was not surprising when a study in press (and published on-line) in Age and Ageing concluded: "in agreement with meta-analyses that include younger age groups, our study suggests that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is inversely related to incident dementia, also among individuals aged 75 years and older."(3)

But you'll never hear it from Sanjay Gupta -- how could you?

AND DON'T BLAME ME!  Go after the Department of Agriculture, Research Society on Alcoholism, and Age and Ageing!

P.S.  - This post is dedicated to all those who comment on my blog that I don't tie into basic research -- I'm sure they'll all love this one!

References:

(1)  Peele, S. & Brodsky, A. (2000).  Exploring Psychological Benefits Associated with Moderate Alcohol Use.  Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 60: 221-247, 2000.

(2)  Collins, M.A. et al. (2009).  Alcohol in Moderation, Cardioprotection, and Neuroprotection: Epidemiological Considerations and Mechanistic Studies.  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 33: 206-219.

(3)  Weyerer, S. et al. (2011).  Current alcohol consumption and its relationship to incident dementia: results from a 3-year follow-up study among primary care attenders aged 75 years and older.  Age and Ageing, (published on-line March 2, 2011).