This surprising drink may make your brain sharper

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Not two weeks ago,  The American Cancer Society updated its list of dietary and lifestyle factors that may reduce one’s risk of developing chronic disease. 

The authors advised readers to steer clear of booze completely; amending their previous assessment which allowed for one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. 

Most experts define a standard drink as 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits or liquor.

In contrast with this, a new cohort study published in JAMA Network Open posits that light drinking may actually protect our cognitive function. 

“In this cohort study of 19 887 participants from the Health and Retirement Study, with a mean follow-up of 9.1 years, when compared with never drinking, low to moderate drinking was associated with significantly better trajectories of higher cognition scores for mental status, word recall, and vocabulary and with lower rates of decline in each of these cognition domains,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “These findings suggested that low to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with better global cognition scores, and these associations appeared stronger for white participants than for black participants. Studies examining the mechanisms underlying the association between alcohol drinking and cognition in middle-aged or older adults are needed.”

Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults

The researchers from the University of Georgia set out to determined the long-term effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption on brain health. 

The nationally representative project called The Health and Retirement Study, allowed the research team to track the cognitive performance of nearly 20,000 people for more than ten years. 

The participants were additionally surveyed on their overall health, lifestyle, and alcohol consumption habits at two-year increments. 

In this particular study, light to moderate drinking was defined as less than eight drinks per week for women and fewer than 15 drinks per week for men.

After all of the data sets were collected, cognitive functioning scores were derived from a series of tests focused on mental status, vocabulary, and memory. 

Consistently,  adults who consumed one to two alcoholic drinks per day actually received better scores on the cognitive tests over time compared to non-drinkers. This outcome was even observable after the authors accounted for other factors like age, education, and smoker status.

For whatever reason, the protective effect of alcohol on cognition seemed to be stronger among Caucasians than African Americans.

If you don’t drink already, the researchers don’t recommend picking the habit up but if you already do they suggest no more than 10-14 alcoholic drinks per week.  

“It is hard to say this effect is causal,” lead author Ruiyuan Zhang concluded. “So, if some people don’t drink alcoholic beverages, this study does not encourage them to drink to prevent cognitive function decline.