From time to time, researchers send me their latest results when they are controversial. Recently Dr. Michael Collins, of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics of Loyola University's School of Medicine, sent me a copy of a just-published paper of his and colleague Edward Neafsey's from the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, entitled, "Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Cognitive Risk."
Combining the results of all the studies they identified that focused on middle-aged (55 or older) non-alcoholic drinkers, Neafsey and Collins determined that "the average ratio of risk for cognitive risk (dementia or cognitive impairment/decline) associated with moderate 'social' (not alcoholic) drinking of alcohol is 0.77, with nondrinkers as the reference group." This means that middle-aged social drinkers have about three-fourths the risk of developing dementia or cognitive deficits as abstainers.
(Disclosure: The article references a decade-ago review I did of this literature with Archie Brodsky*)
These results are not too surprising, given that the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" earlier this year noted that the evidence for reduced dementia among middle-aged moderate drinkers is fairly good (compared with the strong evidence that such drinkers on average live longer than abstainers).
I know from previous experience that such results produce yelps of outrage, condemnation and scorn, on the following grounds:
- This is the fomenting of a couple of radical nuts. No, it's not. Neasfey and Collins used a statistical method called meta-analysis to combine the results of all the research they could find on the topic, comprising 143 prior studies. And, of course, the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" are an official U.S. government publication.
So, abstain if you will or must, but -- if you do so for reasons other than alcoholism -- you are harming your overall health in middle-age.
*Peele S, Brodsky A. Exploring psychological beneﬁts associated with moderate alcohol use: a necessary corrective to assessments of drinking outcomes? Drug Alcohol Depend. 2000;60:221-247.