Study of Older Women Finds Moderate Alcohol Use May Help Mental Abilities


I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A new study suggests that moderate use of alcohol might help reduce the loss of mental ability, at least in older women. The researchers define moderate as less than fifteen grams a day, or about one drink.

The study compared the risk of cognitive impairment in women who used alcohol to women who did not. Cognitive impairment means a loss of thinking ability. Here is what the scientists reported in The New England Journal of Medicine: Women who drank less than fifteen grams of alcohol per day had about a twenty percent lower risk than those who drank none at all. Mental ability was measured for only a two-year period.

Doctor Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, led the research. She says earlier studies showed that moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. But she says less research has been done on how it may affect mental skills. This is one of the largest studies done on the issue.

The researchers used information from more than twelve thousand women in the Nurses' Health Study, a major project. All the women were between the ages of seventy and eighty-one.

Beginning in nineteen eighty the women answered questions every few years about their alcohol use. Then, starting in nineteen ninety-five, they answered questions by telephone to test their memory and reasoning skills.

Some researchers think alcohol increases good cholesterol, which helps blood flow better to the brain. That may improve mental skills.

The new study found similar results for all forms of alcoholic drinks. But the study found no additional reduction in risk from more than one glass a day.

The researchers note that other studies of women as well as men have had similar findings about moderate alcohol use and mental ability. But they also say that care should be taken in advising even moderate use of alcohol. The scientists say more must be learned about the effect of moderate alcohol use. But they point out that the harmful effects of drinking too much are well established.

Too much alcohol can ruin lives, and families. It can cause liver disease and harm the brain. It can also worsen other medical conditions, and may increase the risk of some kinds of cancer.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Gwen Outen.