Daily moderate consumption of alcohol, which has already been shown to help prevent heart disease and strokes, may also ward off Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. The study also found that it doesn't seem to matter what people drink - the effect is the same. Researchers say moderate alcohol consumption between one and three drinks a day may protect against dementia.
The adverse effect of excess alcohol is beyond question. Besides destroying the liver, several studies have shown that excessive drinking can be toxic to the brain. Alcoholics can end up with a shrunken brain, which is linked to dementia. There is even a medical condition called alcoholic dementia.
Scientists at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, conducted a six-year study of 5,395 people aged 55 and over who did not have signs of dementia. Everyone was categorized according to how much they drank. Four or more glasses of alcohol per day was considered heavy drinking.
By the end of the study in 1999, 197 of the participants had developed Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Those who fared best were people who drank between one and three drinks a day. They had a 42 percent lower risk of developing dementia than the nondrinkers.
Researchers suggested the blood-thinning and cholesterol-lowering properties of ethanol in alcohol may ward off dementia, which is often caused by a blood vessel problem. Another possibility is that low levels of alcohol could stimulate the release acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to facilitate learning and memory.