A new study shows that women who drink wine appear to be protected against dementia in middle age, more so in the case of women who drink wine exclusively.
Women wine-drinkers are less likely to develop dementia than regular beer or liquor drinkers though they are more likely to live long enough to develop the brain disorder.
The research is based on a random sample of nearly 1,500 women living in Gothenburg, Sweden. Beginning in 1968, the study observed the women for 34 years. Researchers studied the association between different types of alcohol and the risk of dementia.
According to the research team's report in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who reported drinking wine were 40 per cent less likely to develop dementia. With women who drank wine only, the risk of dementia dropped almost by 70 per cent.
Women who drank liquor were found to have an increased risk of dementia.
On the whole, after considering eight different combinations of drinking beer, wine and liquor, the study "showed a robust protective association for exclusive consumption of wine only."
Though the reasons are unclear, one explanation may be antioxidants present in wine that act on blood vessels that are not typically found in beer or other hard liquors.
Lauren Lissner, a professor of Epidemiology in the department of public health and community medicine at University of Gothenburg said, "The people who drink wine might have other characteristics that we simply can't measure. But the fact that it gets even stronger in the wine group could also be viewed as evidence that there is something in the wine."
The findings are important, in that they also show that an increased number of women have taken to drinking since the study began. In 1968, fewer than 20 per cent of women in the study said they drank wine every week. But the study shows that from 1980 onwards, more than 60 per cent of the women were reporting that they were weekly wine drinkers.
According to Lissner, the study isn't proof that wine protects the brain from "memory-robbing dementia."
The team cautions that the findings can't be applied to men because the drinking patterns of women differ from those of men. Women not only drink less than men, but also appear to prefer wine. Contrarily, men often drink more and prefer beer and liquor to wine.
When it comes to women and alcohol, there are other associations that "don't look quite so rosy," Lissner cautions. Alcohol has always been associated with increasing a woman's risk of breast cancer.
A new study released during the weekend at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in San Diego observed that post-menopausal women drinking even moderately - one or two drinks per day - raise their "risk of developing hormone sensitive breast cancers, the most common form of breast cancer."
Researchers who analyzed data from over 184,000 women enrolled in a large American diet and health study found women who had three or more glasses of alcohol daily had as much as a 51 percent increased breast cancer risk.