Can Moderate Drinking Help People With Alzheimer’s Live Longer?

By May Wilkerson 12/16/15

While drinking typically has a toxic effect on the brain, a new study argues otherwise for those with Alzheimer's.

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Though some experts say these claims may be overstated, moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a range of health benefits, from heart health to reduced risk of dementia. Now a new study suggests that moderate drinking could lower the risk of premature death among people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder with symptoms that usually surface later in life. Since alcohol is known to have potentially toxic effects on the brain, it could be assumed that drinking is bad news for people with Alzheimer’s. But the new study, from the University of Copenhagen, actually found that moderate drinking could have the reverse effect.

Researchers examined 320 individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and found the mortality risk was 77% lower among those who consumed two to three alcoholic drinks a day compared to those who had one drink or none at all. This reduced risk of mortality remained even when accounting for other factors like age, gender, educational level, smoking habit, quality of life, and other illnesses.

"The results of our study point towards a potential, positive association of moderate alcohol consumption on mortality in patients with Alzheimer's disease," said head researcher Sine Berntsen and colleagues. "However, we cannot solely, on the basis of this study, either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in [these] patients.”

The researchers explained that this association does not necessarily mean that moderate drinking is the direct cause of the lower mortality rate. The lifestyle of a moderate drinker, particularly a more active social life, could help improve their overall quality of life and, consequently, their mental and physical health.

They called for more research into the effects of alcohol on the brain, to help people with Alzheimer’s get a better idea of how much alcohol they should drink, if any. "Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol intake could have a protective effect on the brain but further research is needed to explore this and help determine a specific ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption for healthy people and those living with dementia," the authors wrote.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.