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Science says a few drinks a day may help with Alzheimer's

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Drinking three to four alcoholic drinks every day has been linked to a reduced risk of death among those with early stage Alzheimer’s.

Danish researchers, using data from 330 people, found those who drank three to four units of alcohol a day had a 77% lower risk of death compared with those who had only one drink.

Moderate drinking has been associated with a lower risk of developing, and dying from, heart disease and stroke. And there has been much reported about the potential health benefits of red wine.

However, alcohol is also known to damage brain cells. And given that dementia is a disorder of the brain, drinking might be harmful.

Alzheimer’s is an increasing problem in Australia, and other developed countries, and a massive drain on health care resources, as the population ages. More than 342,000 Australians are living with dementia and this number is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than a decade.

The researchers, writing in the journal BMJ Open, say there could be several explanations for the latest findings, including that people who drink moderately have a richer social network, which has been linked to improved quality and, possibly, length of life.

“The results of our study point towards a potential, positive association of moderate alcohol consumption on mortality in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers write.

“However, we cannot solely, on the basis of this study, either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in [these] patients.”

Henry Brodaty, co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of NSW, urges caution about accepting the implication that we should drink several drink a day to reduce mortality.

“This was a post hoc analysis meaning it had not been planned,” says Professor Brodaty. “It only asked about current alcohol intake so that people who were sicker may have already cut down. Not all potential factors which may have explained these results, called confounders, were measured.”

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