Surprising study finds drinking alcohol may protect brain health

Studies over the potential risks and benefits of drinking alcohol are all over the place, with some reporting that light drinking may be relatively health-neutral, while others have found that even small amounts can be harmful — and, of course, there are the studies linking alcohol to protective benefits. A new study follows that latter line, reporting that up to a certain point, drinking alcohol may help protect brain function as we age.READ: Safe alcohol limits questioned: Study warns single pint has major impact

The latest research comes from the University of Georgia, where experts evaluated the potential effect of light to moderate drinking on cognitive performance and overall brain function in older adults. The participants were middle-aged and older, according to the study, which utilized the Health and Retirement Study participant data.

Information on nearly 20,000 participants was evaluated as part of this new study; the researchers considered consuming no more than eight drinks weekly for women and 15 drinks for men as 'light to moderate' drinking. Using various tests, the participants were evaluated for cognitive function across various things, including vocabulary and more.

The results were surprising — even after accounting for other factors that may impact brain health, the researchers ultimately found that participants who reported light to moderate drinking experienced better cognitive performance compared to nondrinkers. In this case, the study notes that 10 to 14 weekly drinks was the 'optimal' range, though the researchers aren't encouraging those who drink less to increase their consumption.

There was a notable difference in outcome when factoring in race, with the study finding that white participants experienced greater protective effects associated with drinking compared to black participants. Additional research will be necessary, however, to determine why that may be the case.