The “controversial” secret to better brain health as you age

Your high school Driver’s Ed instructor probably warned you that drinking alcohol destroys “millions” of brains cells. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that moderate drinking actually boosts your brain function in a major way as you get older.

I’ll tell you more about that study in a moment. But first, let’s back up to explore why mainstream medicine has been so slow to accept the science on the benefits of moderate drinking…

It’s not about the science

As I mention from time to time, some medical experts, including the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO), continue to insist that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume. And they want to effectively ban it for anyone and everyone.

I call these folks “neo-prohibitionists” because they seem to have forgotten that we already tried prohibition once, a century ago. And it failed abysmally and left a lasting legacy of problems with which we are still contending to this day.

These folks cite the statistic that 9 percent of people who consume alcohol have problems with it. So, they say, in order to solve the problem of alcohol abuse for that 9 percent, we must ban alcohol for everyone. Including the other 91 percent of people who use alcohol responsibly and reap the many health benefits. (After all, while only 10 percent of smokers get lung cancer, they still banned all smoking in public for everyone.)

Of course, these neo-prohibitionists also falsely claim that total abstinence is the only solution to alcohol abuse. But recent research shows that dogma has also been all wrong, all along. Problem drinkers can learn to become moderate drinkers, like the other 91 percent of people.

ASCO, in particular, seems intent to point out that some studies show alcohol “may” increase the risk of some cancers, in some people, by up to 1 or 2 percent. But even if such a miniscule finding could be real, or meaningful, there are much bigger percentages showing that moderate drinking benefits health in other ways…

For example, there is a long-standing association between moderate alcohol consumption and lower rates of heart disease—the No. 1 cause of chronic disease and death. These heart benefits are well-established and should be well-known by now by all doctors.

In addition, despite what you may have learned in high school that drinking kills brain cells, the real scientific evidence shows quite the opposite. In fact, a recent study found that moderate drinkers are significantly more likely than teetotalers to live to age 85 without developing dementia.

I’ve always thought moderate drinking supports brain function in the same way it supports heart function…by improving blood circulation.

And that point brings us back to the new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch

Light-to-moderate drinking protects cognition

For this new study, U.S. researchers followed nearly 20,000 participants for about nine years. At the study’s outset, the participants’ average age was 62 years.

Several times during the course of the study, the researchers measured the participants’ cognitive function by testing mental status, vocabulary, and word recall. They also sorted the participants into three categories, according to their drinking habits: former drinkers, current drinkers, and never drinkers.

Then, they sorted the current drinkers into two more categories: heavy drinkers and low-to-moderate drinkers. The defined “heavy drinkers” as women who consumed eight or more drinks per week and men who consumed 15 or more drinks per week. They defined “low-to-moderate drinkers” as anyone who consumed less than those amounts weekly.

As you might expect, compared to never drinkers, low-to-moderate drinkers exhibited consistently higher cognitive function and lower rates of progressive cognitive decline. (There weren’t many heavy drinkers in the study. But the researchers did find evidence that heavy drinking could harm cognitive function.)

Overall, the researchers noted a familiar “U-shape” association between drinking and cognitive function over time. In other words, the greatest benefits came to those in the happy middle—who drank 10 to 14 drinks per week. Whereas never drinkers and heavy drinkers did not experience these benefits to cognition. Instead, they had a greater risk of experiencing cognitive decline over time.

These findings don’t surprise me at all. Instead, they confirm what I’ve always said about the major health benefits of moderate drinking.

So, even though the ASCO oncologists remain stuck in the “Land of Oz,” it doesn’t take a wizard to see that moderate alcohol consumption confers a better heart and a better brain. Now if they only had the courage to confront the real science, instead of relying on their politically correct posturing.

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“Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults.” JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(6):e207922. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.7922