To drink or not to drink

Research in brief: To drink or not to drink?

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

Zhang et al. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(6):e207922.

 Summary: This study explores if there is an association between low to moderate alcohol intake and cognitive function or rates of cognitive decline in middle to older age adults. The study looked at a cohort of 19,887 participants from the Health and Retirement Study.

When compared with never drinking, low to moderate drinking was associated with significantly higher cognition scores and lower rates of decline in each of the cognition domains. Meaning, current low to moderate alcohol consumption among middle aged or older adults may be associated with better total cognitive function.

More detail: Alcohol misuse is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and stroke, regardless of how much you drink. And heavy and binge drinking is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, studies have also found that low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with protective effects against cardiovascular diseases.

Besides its role in physical health, low to moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to play a role in the development of cognitive impairment and dementia, although the findings are mixed.

In this study, the association of alcohol drinking and cognitive functions were similar between men and women but differed for race or ethnicity. The present study found that low to moderate drinking was associated with consistently high cognitive function trajectories and alcohol consumption had a U-shaped relationship with cognitive function scores, with an optimal dosage of 10 to 14 drinks per week for all participants.


Drinking alcohol is complex in its effects on cognition. Current recommendations should cautiously state that if one has been drinking low amounts of red wine with a meal daily this should not be discontinued. Once cognitive impairment –even of mild severity- is detected the recommendations are to stop any use of alcohol.

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