You’ve probably heard the research that has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is not necessarily a bad thing and that moderate drinking might actually help you live longer.
Now a Danish research team has discovered that moderate drinking may have some benefits for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study released today in the journal BMJ Open, researchers studied 321 patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease as part of the Danish Alzheimer's Intervention Study (DAISY).
Of those patients, 17 percent drank two to three drinks a day while 71 percent only consumed alcohol occasionally. Another 8 percent didn’t drink at all.
The daily drinkers were 77 percent more likely to be alive 36 months later than the occasional drinkers.
Researchers noted no significant difference in patients who didn’t drink at all or those who had more than three drinks a day.
Does that mean Alzheimer’s patients should also be drinkers? Not necessarily. The team readily admits that more research is needed before recommending daily alcohol consumption to people with Alzheimer’s.
"The results of our study point towards a potential, positive association of moderate alcohol consumption on mortality in patients with AD. However, we cannot solely, on the basis of this study, either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in patients with AD,” the researchers concluded in the study.
How Alcohol Might Affect the Alzheimer’s Brain
It’s true that drinking kills brain cells and chronic alcoholism can drastically damage brain function. One might assume that alcohol would have negative effects for people with Alzheimer’s, but that’s not necessarily true.
Moderate drinking has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, major concerns for all people over the age of 65. This, the Danish researchers said in their study, is perhaps the strongest indicator for why moderate drinking could have protective effects in people with Alzheimer’s.
Another possible explanation is that people who drink are often more social, which helps people live longer.
Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association, said the study was interesting but not that surprising. She told Healthline that the social lifestyle aspects associated with drinking have been shown to help people with memory, but alcohol by itself is hard to separate from other factors.
“It’s tough to tease those things out,” said Snyder. “This study is adding to what might be those lifestyle factors that are increasing or decreasing those risks.”
Lifestyle Interventions Help
The Alzheimer’s Association’s “10 Ways to Love Your Brain” campaign focuses on helping people maintain cognitive function through lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes have been shown to be effective at preserving memory and brain function, Snyder says.
They include regular exercise, reading, and quitting smoking. “Those are actually things we’ve seen in larger studies that help people later in life,” she said.
While the Danish study is intriguing, it doesn’t mean people with the disease should start supplementing their diets with alcohol.
Instead, Snyder said, patients should volunteer for clinical trials so researchers can continue to build on the growing body of evidence toward effective treatments and possibly a cure.
For more information regarding ongoing clinical trials, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match page.