This paper has been picked up by the international press and has tabloid sub-editors salivating over ‘Booze yourself brighter’ and ’Pour genius’ (boom boom!) headlines. Of course the truth is more complex than soundbytes allow (one of my reservations about Twitter) and reading a complex journal paper is not something most journalists relish, or are equipped to do, (apologies to those that are, and/or enjoy it!). However, this study does appear to offer further empirical evidence for cognitive benefits of moderate wine consumption.
The authors have produced a well thought out paper in terms of the experimental design and justify the conclusions drawn from the large data corpus. It is a longitudinal population-based study and interesting in that light-to-moderate wine consumption was associated with better performance on cognitive tests after 7 years follow up. Their results support findings from previous research on the topic and over the last twenty-five years the association between moderate alcohol intake and cognitive function has been investigated in more than 50 studies. Most show an association between light to moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function as well as reduced risk of conditions such as dementia.
Particpants in the Norwegian study (I prefer this term to the convention of subjects) were over 5000 stroke-free, to remove potential confounding variables, men and women. Alcohol consumption and other cardiovascular risk factors were measured and cognitive function was assessed after 7 years follow up with verbal memory test, digit–symbol coding test and tapping test. Moderate wine consumption was found to be independently associated with better performance on all cognitive tests in both men and women. Of note is that there was no consistent association between consumption of beer and spirits and cognitive test results. Alcohol abstention was also associated with lower cognitive performance in women.
Of course the truth is that we have to balance any positive effects of alcohol use against the huge medical and social problems related to problematic drinking. I recall a researcher saying to me some years ago; ‘the bottom line is you will never offset the negative impact of alcohol consumption with positive health outcomes for the majority of people, at least in our lifetime anyway“. The only way this will be achieved in future is through artificially enhanced products where the content of beneficial elements, such as polyphenols, is much higher (and alcohol lower). I also think education will continue to be the definitive factor. Wine may be ‘better’ than many alcoholic beverages because of polyphenol content but, that said, it is really how we consume alcohol (and how much) that matters most. Also wines differ greatly in terms of production and composition so some wines are likely to be better than others (e.g. young unfiltered tannic reds).
Arntzen KA, Schirmer H, Wilsgaard T, Mathiesen EB. Moderate wine consumption is associated with better cognitive test results: a 7 year follow up of 5033 subjects in the Tromsø Study. Acta Neurol Scand: 2010: 122 (Suppl. 190): 23–29.
Thanks to John Wiley & Sons for the journal image and the paper