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Do Wine Lovers Make Better Thinkers?
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed August 16, 2004. For more information go to

If you feel that you've been thinking extra sharply of late, perhaps it could be the wine talking.

Adding another data point to the growing body of studies that link moderate wine consumption with health and longevity, British scientists recently published a report suggesting that consumption of beverage alcohol appears to be related with improved "cognitive function" (thinking ability) in adults.

Researchers examined data from the Whitehall Study, an extensive cohort study that followed the medical histories of about 10,000 British government workers over 11 years beginning in 1985.

At the end of the study period (1997-99), about 6,000 of the Whitehall participants were given a battery of tests to measure intelligence, memory, vocabulary and fluency, and the results were compared with their reported consumption of alcohol. "Of people who reported drinking alcohol in the past year," the researchers' abstract says, "those who consumed at least one drink in the past week, compared with those who did not, were significantly less likely to have poor cognitive function."

These benefits appeared even at levels of alcohol consumption that most sensible observers would consider excessive; in fact, the cognitive benefits appeared greatest among the heaviest drinkers, those drinking more than 240 grams per week, approximately 30 drinks or five full bottles of table wine.

"The authors concluded that for middle-aged subjects, increasing levels of alcohol consumption were associated with better function regarding some aspects of cognition," the abstract concluded, adding, laconically, "Nonetheless, it is not proposed that these findings be used to encourage increased alcohol consumption."

The study, Alcohol Consumption and Cognitive Function in the Whitehall II Study, by researchers Annie Britton, Archana Singh-Manoux and Sir Michael Marmot of London's University College, was announced in the Aug. 1, 2004 edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology. It should be noted that studies of this type demonstrate relationships among variables but don't purport to establish the causes of those relationships. In other words, the study does not claim to prove that drinking improves cognitive function. Indeed, researchers noted that the relationship was "weakened when social position was added to the model."

Still, all this provides something for us to think about - clearly, it is to be hoped - when we lift our next glass of wine.


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