Can Wine Fight Dementia?

A glass a day in the golden years may protect against dementia, a study says.

ByABC News
July 13, 2009, 12:18 PM

July 13, 2009— -- A glass or two of wine a day – but no more -- appears to protect older adults from developing dementia, researchers reported here at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

"Among cognitively normal older adults, one to two alcoholic drinks a day is associated with a 37 percent decreased risk of dementia over 6 years," said Dr. Kaycee Sink, a gerontologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

These "moderate drinkers," who were at least 75 years old, had a lower risk of dementia than peers who abstained completely or those who had more than two drinks a day, Sink and her colleagues found.

However, she said she would not recommend that non-drinkers begin to use alcohol to try to prevent dementia.

Dr. Sink also said that her research found that patients who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment did worse with any level of alcohol intake.

"Physicians need to be clear with their patients exactly what is meant by 'light,' 'moderate' and 'heavy' drinking," said Dr. Maria Carrillo, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association, which sponsored the Vienna meeting.

In Sink's study, a light drinker consumed one drink or less of alcohol a day, while moderate consumption was one to two drinks. Heavy drinking involved more than two drinks a day.

Carrillo said that future studies would help the association decide whether to issue recommendations on alcohol consumption for prevention of dementia, or as part of a treatment scheme for patients with mild cognitive impairment.

She said it's possible that alcohol itself has no impact on dementia, but may reflect a lifestyle that results in more or less risk for dementia and other illnesses.

"This study does not give license to drink beyond one or two alcoholic beverages a day, since excessive alcohol consumption is associated with alcoholic dementia and other medical problems. And some people think if a little bit is good, more is better," cautioned Dr. Scott Turner, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University.