Is There a Causal Connection Between Wine Consumption & Dementia?

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Dementia, which is an umbrella term for conditions that affect both mental and social abilities, has many potential causes, some of which aren’t fully understood. The main cause is nerve cells in the brain being lost or damaged in some way. But what about the consumption of certain alcoholic beverages? Here’s a closer look at the possible connection between drinking wine and dementia.

Excessive Consumption and Brain Damage

The Alzheimer’s Society references several studies that have found a link between excessive alcohol consumption and brain damage. This applies to all types of alcoholic beverages, including wine. However, if individuals drink alcohol in moderation, they aren’t advised to stop doing so in their efforts to reduce their risk of developing a dementia-related condition.

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Moderate Consumption and Possible Benefits

Loyola University put together a study based on more than 40 years of research primarily focused on drinking wine and dementia risk. Researchers concluded that drinking wine in moderation may actually lower the risk of developing dementia. However, consuming too much wine could increase dementia risk, which is why researchers are stressing the importance of moderation.

Other Research Findings

Based on available data, the connection between moderate alcohol consumption and a reduced risk of cognitive impairment has been established in more than a dozen countries in addition to the United States. There have also been other U.S–based studies suggesting moderate alcohol consumption provides benefits.

With wine, the reason for the positive findings may be because of the effects of an antioxidant-like plant compound called resveratrol. Specifically, this compound, which is found in large amounts in red wine, helps blood vessels remain open and flexible. Red wine also contains antioxidants known as polyphenols that provide added protection for the lining of blood vessels.

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The Importance of Finding a Balance

The Loyola University study noted that moderate drinkers are nearly 25 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. However, researchers report that having more than 3–5 alcoholic drinks per day increases the risk of developing cognitive impairment. As for why moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial, possible reasons include:

• Increased blood flow in the brain
• Better brain metabolism because of increased circulation
• Reduced risk of nerve cell damage because of healthier blood flow

What Research Results Mean for Older Adults

The results from this research shouldn’t be used as an excuse for seniors who normally don’t drink to begin having wine and other alcoholic beverages. There are plenty of other ways for non-drinking seniors to maintain physical and mental health. However, if you’re caring for an older loved one who normally enjoys red wine or other alcoholic beverages on occasion, make sure he or she is doing so in moderation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “moderation” for adults means one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

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