A Drink A Day Keeps the Brain in Shape

What's good for the heart may be just as good for the brain, new research suggests. Cutting blood pressure and drinking moderately, already shown to promote heart health, may also ward off the mental decline that comes with age.

In a study that followed nearly 400 older adults for up to 12 years, researchers found that those whose blood pressure dropped over time were less likely than others to see their mental abilities decline. The same was true of men and women who, before the age of 60, enjoyed a drink per day.

Investigators at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, UK, report their findings in the July issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. "I must say, this is good news," lead author Dr. Jorge A. Cervilla told Reuters Health in an interview.

Some studies have linked uncontrolled high blood pressure to mental decline, and some have suggested moderate drinking protects the brain; however, Cervilla said, it has been unclear whether these associations hold over the long term.

Subjects in his study had their mental functioning re-tested 9 to 12 years after their original tests. While slowing or preventing mental decline has obvious benefits in and of itself, it also cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, Cervilla noted.

Last week in Washington, DC, researchers presented findings at the World Alzheimer Congress 2000 meeting showing that a drink or two per day may cut the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Moderation seems to be key to any benefit drinking bestows on the brain, according to Cervilla. In his study, people who either abstained from alcohol or drank heavily were more likely than moderate drinkers to show mental decline. "We're not saying," Cervilla said, "you should get drunk every day."

Lowering blood pressure and drinking moderately may help the brain by way of the heart, Cervilla suggested. Maintaining a healthful flow of blood and oxygen may offer a defense against brain deterioration.

Yet some other heart-related factors, such as cholesterol levels and aspirin use, showed no effect on the risk of mental decline in this study. "This was surprising," Cervilla said, adding that perhaps these factors do not weigh heavily over the long term.

SOURCE: British Journal of Psychiatry July 2000.