A decade or more ago, when I was in my early forties, I phased out drinking coffee in favor of tea. My rationale was that, being somewhat sensitive to caffeine, I didn’t need a full cup of coffee to start my day. I didn’t even need a half a cup. Black tea would suffice in the morning, and at work, after lunch, I would open one of the seemingly endless packets of Bigelow green tea in my workplace’s kitchen. Among my forty-plus colleagues, only a handful of us drank tea.
I was forty-three when I started working for this employer and just shy of fifty-four when I left after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While this disease was taking its toll on my ability to do my job, I was otherwise a model of health. Like everyone, I caught colds from time to time, but mine tended to be short-lived. I rarely called in sick.
A study released last year suggests that green tea’s touted benefits on short-term memory are real. The study, which the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association has circulated, involved twelve healthy adults, each of whom received a milk whey–based drink. For half of the participants, the beverage included 27.5 grams of green tea extract. Based on magnetic resonance imaging, researchers reported that those who received the green tea extract in their beverages performed better in “working memory at the neural system level by suggesting changes in short-term plasticity of parieto-frontal brain connections.” (Parieto-frontal integration refers to how different brain functions, such as attention and memory, work together.)
Red wine, in moderation, also has been cited for a number of health benefits, including memory function. However, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/report/low-to-moderate-alcohol-consumption) reports that while consuming low-to-moderate amounts of red wine can be therapeutic, its efficacy may be overstated. Under the heading, “Can It Benefit Someone with Dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment?,” the foundation offers some caveats.
For people with mild cognitive impairment, low-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption was associated with a 50 to 85 percent slower rate of cognitive decline, according to the foundation. But the website notes that other factors may also be in play; for example, wine drinkers, on average, may be healthier in the first place.
As for the potential for moderate drinking in general to help forestall death, the results are mixed. On the one hand, low-to-moderate drinkers were 16 percent less likely to die than compared to both heavy drinkers and non-drinkers. The website notes, however, that factors other than drinking could explain this discrepancy.
“Given that alcohol can acutely impair cognitive function and interact dangerously with many medications, it is unlikely a good choice for Alzheimer’s patients.”
I agree. And I did once make the mistake of taking Aricept, the drug widely prescribed for Alzheimer’s, less than an hour after my daily glass of red wine. Not a good idea.
But I still make a point to have a glass of red wine with my lunch, especially when the wine is good and the sun is providing a near-perfect early autumn afternoon. I regard my daily glass as a dose of contemplation.