Women who are regular wine drinkers have a reduced risk of suffering from dementia, according to a long-term examination of the drinking patterns of women in Sweden. Scientists say it's too early to recommend wine consumption to women, however, based on study limitations.
The research, published in the March 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed 1,458 women in Sweden, between ages 38 and 60, for 34 years, beginning in 1968. The study, organized by a team at Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University, was conducted to examine female lifestyle patterns by following up with subjects once a decade until 2002.
Among the study's conclusions is that more Swedish women are drinking wine. For example, fewer than 20 percent of middle-aged women drank wine every week in the late 1960s. Today more than half of all women reported that they drink wine every week.
Another conclusion is that those females who chose to drink wine responsibly, as opposed to those who drank beer or spirits, showed lower rates of dementia compared to nondrinkers. Dementia is a cognitive condition characterized by the loss of memory and reasoning ability. However, the research has its drawbacks.
"In 1968, there were no questions about red versus white wine, or about amounts consumed," said study co-author Dr. Lauren Lissner, a professor at Sahlgrenska Academy. "This study's design makes it possible to study exposures that change in individuals over time, but it does not permit us to investigate 'modern' questions, e.g. about binge-drinking, which have been added recently."
During the 34-year study, 162 women developed dementia. When the scientists took into account many other mitigating factors, such as smoking, socioeconomic status and chronic health problems, they found that women who reported drinking wine every week were 70 percent less likely to develop dementia. If the women also consumed beer and spirits, but still showed a preference for wine, they were 40 percent less likely to get dementia. Women who preferred beer or spirits were 15 to 20 percent more likely to get dementia, the research found.
"A categorical analysis covering all combinations of intake of beer, wine and/or spirits, showed a robust protective association for exclusive consumption of wine only," the study concluded. "The strong difference in the effects of different types of alcoholic beverages seems to suggest that ingredients other than ethanol contribute to the beneficial effect of wine on dementia." Women who drank wine also tended to live longer.
Despite the findings, Lissner said that more research is needed to examine the relationships between alcohol consumption and chronic illnesses. Furthermore, the results are not to be interpreted as a reason to change one's drinking patterns based on the findings. "Given the known associations between alcohol and increased risk of breast cancer, this result cannot be the basis for recommendations for women to increase wine consumption," she said.
"These findings, in combination with the fact that women today drink more wine than 40 years ago, show that it is important to continue to do research on this correlation," Lissner added. "In future analyses we will be studying the effect on more specific types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. Other research methods will be needed."
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