Alcohol Intake, Carotid Plaque, and Cognition: The Northern Manhattan Study

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Background and Purpose—Moderate alcohol intake has been associated with better cognitive performance, implicating vascular and neurodegenerative processes. Few studies to clarify the importance of vascular disease have included direct measures of atherosclerosis or minority populations at higher risk of vascular disease and dementia.Methods—The Northern Manhattan Study includes stroke-free community based Hispanic (54%), black (25%), and white (22%) participants. We performed a cross-sectional study of alcohol intake and performance on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) in subjects with sonographic measurement of maximal carotid plaque thickness and adjusted for sociodemographic and vascular risk factors.Results—The median MMSE score was 27 (interquartile range 24 to 29; n=2215). Reported alcohol intake was divided into 5 groups: never (n=509), past (n=494), <1 drink/week (n=300), 1/week to ≤2 drinks/day (n=796), and >2 drinks/day (n=116). Drinking 1 drink weekly up to 2 daily was associated with better performance on the MMSE (odds ratio=1.19; 95% CI, 1.10 to 1.26) compared with nondrinkers in women (P≤0.0001) but not in men, adjusting for sociodemographic and vascular risk factors. Maximal carotid plaque thickness (mean 1.1 mm; SD 1.2 mm) was not associated with alcohol intake and did not mediate the relationship between alcohol and cognition.Conclusions—Moderate alcohol consumption was independently associated with better cognitive performance in women from this multiethnic sample. Carotid plaque was not a mediator of this association suggesting alcohol may impact cognition through a separate vascular or degenerative pathway.

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