Alcohol consumption and cognitive performance in the Framingham Heart Study

Am J Epidemiol. 1999 Sep 15;150(6):580-9. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a010056.


Recent studies have indicated that moderate alcohol intake may be beneficial to cognitive functioning in women, although not necessarily in men. Data from the Framingham Heart Study, a large, prospective study of cardiovascular disease in Framingham, Massachusetts, were used to examine the relation between alcohol consumption and cognitive ability. The major research question was whether a different alcohol-cognition relation would be found for male and female drinkers. Men (n = 733) and women (n = 1,053), aged 55-88 years, were queried as to their weekly intake of alcohol, and these data were used to construct groups of abstainers, very light, light, moderate, and heavy drinkers. Data from earlier reports of alcohol consumption were also examined. Participants were administered eight tests which reflect performance in the domains of verbal memory, learning, visual organization and memory, attention, abstract reasoning, and concept formation. Multivariate linear regression analyses were used with statistical adjustment for age, education, occupation, cardiovascular disease, and associated risk factors. Women who drank moderately (2-4 drinks/day) showed superior performance in many cognitive domains relative to abstainers. For men, superior performance was found within the range of 4-8 drinks/day, although fewer significant relations were observed. These results were confirmed by prospective analyses of 24-year drinking history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Ethanol