Scientifically speaking, it’s been a good year for drinkers. In October, one of the most rigorous studies to date showed that when people with type-2 diabetes drank a nightly glass of wine with dinner, they had healthier cholesterol levels.
Now, a new study published in the journal BMJ Open looks at people with a different disease—mild Alzheimer’s—and found that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of death.
“It came as a surprise,” says the paper's senior author Frans Boch Waldorff, a professor in the Department of Public Health at University of Southern Denmark. By now, it’s known that people who drink moderately—that’s one to two drinks per day according to some health groups—have a reduced risk of death from coronary disease. But could alcohol, a killer of brain cells, possibly benefit people with brain disease? “We thought perhaps if you had a brain disease, you would not tolerate alcohol in the way of people without brain disease.”
The researchers used data from the Danish Alzheimer’s Intervention Study (DAISY), which followed people with mild Alzheimer’s disease for three years. Among the data from the 321 Danish people in the study was information about how much they drank, reported by their caregivers. The authors didn’t differentiate between different types of alcohol.
Even after controlling for factors including age, sex, cognitive functioning, quality of life, smoking and education, the researchers found that consumption of roughly 2-3 drinks per day was associated with a 77% lower risk of dying over the three-year study period, compared to those who drank one or fewer drinks per day.
That’s a significant decrease in mortality. But since study wasn’t designed to determine causes, it raises more questions about the effects of alcohol than answers. Perhaps the protective benefit associated with alcohol actually comes from having a strong social network or a better quality of life, Waldorff speculates. More research is needed, and in future studies, Waldorff wants to look at whether alcohol consumption is also associated with happiness in the last period of life, or if alcohol influences cognitive decline.