Elderly patients who drink in moderation - between one and seven drinks per week - appear to have fewer strokes than either abstainers or heavier drinkers who consume more than 15 drinks per week, according to US researchers.
Dr Kenneth Mukamal and colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that moderate alcohol consumption among elderly patients appeared to protect against age-related brain injuries such as silent stroke and white matter disease. However, consumption of alcohol, at any level, was also associated with some brain atrophy.
The research team studied 2,306 patients over the age of 65 who were enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Alcohol intake was measured according to how often 12 ounces of beer, 6 ounces of wine or shots of liquor were consumed. Each patient underwent Magnetic Resonance Imagining to measure the amount of neuronal damage.
Dr Mukamal said that the beneficial effects of alcohol were probably derived from its ability to raise levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and to thin the blood, which might explain the lowered risk of silent strokes with moderate intake.