Don't forget your daily glass of wine if you want to keep a good memory, a new study on alcohol and dementia suggests. While it isn't breaking news that moderate wine consumption has been linked yet again with a lower risk of developing dementia, a general term used to describe memory loss, researchers at Germany's University of Giessen and University of Leipzig recently took a look at coffee, tea and wine, and found similar brain benefits for wine and tea.
"Since dementia is a subject whose relevance increases every year and many have had personal experiences with the disease, elucidating valuable dietary means to prevent suffering from it was important to us," lead author Dr. Sylva Mareike Schaefer told Wine Spectator.
The study, published in Brain Sciences, collected data from 350,000 participants in the U.K. Biobank cohort, a large-scale biomedical database with health information from more than half a million United Kingdom residents, ages 38 to 73. The researchers identified 4,270 dementia cases within the group surveyed.
Participants had answered questionnaires on dietary habits. Red wine, white wine and Champagne consumption were grouped together under "wine", while beer, spirits and fortified wine were labeled "non-wine". A portion of wine was defined as 10 grams of alcohol (a standard glass of wine is 14 grams). Wine consumption was grouped into four categories: none, light (less than or equal to 12 grams of alcohol per day), moderate (greater than 12 to 24 grams per day) and heavy (more than 24 grams per day).
Coffee and tea consumption were documented in cups per day. Moderate coffee consumption was defined as between three to four cups per day, while tea was grouped into four categories like wine: none, light (zero to two cups per day), moderate (three to four cups per day) and heavy (more than five cups per day).
The results showed that, among all participants, moderate wine drinkers had a 19 percent lower risk of dementia than non-wine drinkers. One wrinkle—when the data was divided by gender, wine-drinking men showed a 17 percent lower risk, but wine-drinking women did not show a statistically significant difference compared to non-wine drinkers.
"We were indeed surprised that the positive effects of wine consumption were [statistically significant] in men and all participants but not in women," said Dr. Schaefer. "However, these findings are supported by another research group that also found a reduction of Alzheimer’s dementia after red wine intake, who suggest that women may be more vulnerable to the noxious effect of alcohol." She adds that women are also more susceptible to dementia due to their higher life expectancy.
There was no statistically significant difference in risk based on levels of coffee consumption, which Dr. Schaefer attributes to the possibility that the positive and negative effects of coffee and caffeine canceled each other out. But tea showed a similar effect to wine—people who drank three to six cups per day had a 31 percent lower risk of dementia. What does tea have that coffee doesn't? Like wine, it contains high amounts of flavonoids—polyphenolic compounds found in plant-based foods.
Since the study relied on self-reported data, the results are vulnerable to measurement errors and biases, such as people giving answers they believe are more socially acceptable. Dr. Schaefer adds that the UK Biobank database includes a "healthy volunteer" selection bias, which means that people who voluntarily participate in research studies tend to be more health-conscious than non-participants.
But the authors observe that other studies corroborate the connections between alcohol consumption and memory loss. And it all goes back to what's in the glass. "The potential neuroprotective effect of wine might be caused by natural ingredients of wine not present in non-wine beverages, such as the phenolic substance resveratrol found in the epidermis of red grapes," the authors wrote.
Want to learn more about how wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Wine & Healthy Living e-mail newsletter and get the latest health news, feel-good recipes, wellness tips and more delivered straight to your inbox every other week!