A study published in the Jan. 20, 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who have a drink of beer or wine daily have sharper minds into old age than women who abstain.
The report, based on a study of nearly 12,500 nurses, adds to the apparent benefits of light-to-moderate drinking, which can also prevent heart disease and stroke.
The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay tells co-anchor Rene Syler the large group of elderly women, ages 70 to 81, were monitored for both their alcohol intake and mental fitness.
What they found was that the women who drank moderately stayed sharper than non-drinkers; they lowered their risk of memory loss and senility by about 20 percent, Senay explains. On average, the women who drank a beer or a glass of wine each day tended to have the mental agility of someone a year-and-a-half younger than those who abstained.
The good news is it didn't matter which type of liquor it was, Senay notes. The bad news is that it's not a lot.
Researchers saw the best results in the women who consistently drank one half to one drink a day; the women consumed between 1.0 and 14.9 grams of alcohol per day. That translates into about 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine (about the amount that would be in an average wine glass), or an ounce of liquor in a shot glass. That's not a lot of alcohol; you only get to drink one of those glasses per day. You shouldn't have all of them, Senay exclaims.
So does that mean that people who don't drink should add a daily cocktail to their routines?
Absolutely not, Senay says. This doesn't mean you should dust off those wine glasses and start stocking beer in the fridge. There are some benefits to drinking alcohol, but there are also a lot of risks associated with alcohol consumption.
There are a lot of common medications that shouldn't be taken with alcohol; drinking dehydrates you, and if you don't drink enough water, that can lead to serious problems. Heavy drinking has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Also, there's always the risk that you might be susceptible to alcoholism. While not everyone is going to become an alcoholic, once you've opened the liquor cabinet, it's way too easy to have more than just one drink. This study is reassuring to people who already drink up to one drink a day, but it is not license to start drinking.
For those people who are already moderate drinkers, this isn't the only benefit. Senay explains there is a lot of evidence that shows moderate alcohol consumption actually helps prevent heart disease and stroke. And red wine specifically has biochemical effects that make it good for the heart, such as making the blood thinner and less likely to clot and cause a blockage.
So the bottom line is: Yes, if you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer with your pizza, you should feel good about yourself, and if you're drinking three or four glasses with dinner, this study is another good reason to cut it back to just one.