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Occasional Alcohol Could Improve Memory Performance

Oct 24, 2014 03:52 PM EDT

A new study has found that if older adults drink a small amount of alcohol on a regular basis, they may actually enhance their ability to recall memories. This may be an effective preventative measure in the fight against memory loss - an expected consequence of aging.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.

The study details how a team of researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Maryland used data on over 660 patients to examine the link between alcohol consumption and late-life cognitive function.

These patients were reportedly part of the long-term Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, and none reported a history of alcohol abuse or symptoms related to dementia.

Each of these patients were surveyed on their regular alcohol consumption, and underwent neuropsychological assessments and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Interestingly, the researchers were also on the lookout for the Alzheimer's disease genetic risk factor, APOE e4.

An analysis of this data showed that light to moderate regular alcohol consumption in older adults (past the age of 60) is linked to an improved ability to recall memories or specific events, compared to non-drinkers. This regular drinking also appeared to have a small effect on the physical brain structure of these participants, who boasted larger volume in the hippocampus - a part of the brain commonly association with memory.

Past animal studies have led the researchers to speculate that moderate alcohol consumption may contribute to hippocampal volume by promoting generation of new nerve cells. Exposing the brain to alcohol also releases chemicals involved in cognitive function, giving the brain a regular workout that could keep it healthy.

However, the researchers are quick to point out that a cause-and-effect relationship was not identified.

Lead author Brian Downer at UTMB explained in a recent statement that adults who are able to continue drinking alcohol late in life are generally healthier in the first place.

"[They] therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes," he said.

Still, men should be careful about getting a head start on a potentially beneficial drinking habit. Nature World News recently reported how regular moderate drinking can adversely impact a man's sperm, making it harder for him to have children.

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