Background: The adverse effects of excess alcohol intake on cognitive function are well established, but the effect of moderate consumption is uncertain.
Methods: Between 1995 and 2001, we evaluated cognitive function in 12,480 participants in the Nurses' Health Study who were 70 to 81 years old, with follow-up assessments in 11,102 two years later. The level of alcohol consumption was ascertained regularly beginning in 1980. We calculated multivariate-adjusted mean cognitive scores and multivariate-adjusted risks of cognitive impairment (defined as the lowest 10 percent of the scores) and a substantial decline in cognitive function over time (defined as a change that was in the worst 10 percent of the distribution of the decline). We also stratified analyses according to the apolipoprotein E genotype in a subgroup of women.
Results: After multivariate adjustment, moderate drinkers (those who consumed less than 15.0 g of alcohol per day [about one drink]) had better mean cognitive scores than nondrinkers. Among moderate drinkers, as compared with nondrinkers, the relative risk of impairment was 0.77 on our test of general cognition (95 percent confidence interval, 0.67 to 0.88) and 0.81 on the basis of a global cognitive score combining the results of all tests (95 percent confidence interval, 0.70 to 0.93). The results for cognitive decline were similar; for example, on our test of general cognition, the relative risk of a substantial decline in performance over a two-year period was 0.85 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.74 to 0.98) among moderate drinkers, as compared with nondrinkers. There were no significant associations between higher levels of drinking (15.0 to 30.0 g per day) and the risk of cognitive impairment or decline. There were no significant differences in risks according to the beverage (e.g., wine or beer) and no interaction with the apolipoprotein E genotype.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that in women, up to one drink per day does not impair cognitive function and may actually decrease the risk of cognitive decline.
Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.