DEMENTIA

Moderate drinking may be beneficial for older people.

* THE QUESTION Does drinking affect the risk of dementia?

* PAST STUDIES have shown that alcohol consumption affects the brain and its blood vessels. It is not clear how this interaction might affect the risk of dementia.

* THIS STUDY examined alcohol consumption in 373 generally healthy people over 65 who were newly diagnosed with dementia and 373 people of similar age and health status. Those who drank one to six alcoholic beverages a week had a 54 percent lower risk of dementia than those who did not drink any alcohol. People who consumed 14 or more drinks had a 22 percent higher risk of dementia than those who abstained.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? People aged 65 and older.

* CAVEATS The results are not based on a randomized trial and may vary in people with different health characteristics. In addition, alcohol use was self-reported. Finally, the researchers cautioned that these findings should not be interpreted as a recommendation that older adults begin moderate drinking.

* BOTTOM LINE Older people may wish to consult their physician about the benefits and risks of limited drinking.

* FIND THIS STUDY March 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association; abstract online at http://jama.ama-assn.org/.

PARKINSON'S DISEASE

Caffeine may increase risk for older women using hormones.

* THE QUESTION Does hormone treatment change caffeine's effect on the risk of developing Parkinson's disease?

* PAST STUDIES have shown that men who regularly drink caffeinated beverages have a lower risk of Parkinson's disease (PD) than male non-drinkers. Caffeine has not been shown to have the same effect on women.

* THIS STUDY involved 77,713 healthy post-menopausal women. Over an 18-year period, 154 of them developed PD; 66 of these women had never used hormones while 88 had used them at some point. Overall, the researchers determined that those who had used hormones had a similar risk of PD as those who did not. But they also concluded that caffeine increased the risk of PD in women who used hormones and reduced that risk in those who did not.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Post-menopausal women who drink caffeinated beverages.

* CAVEATS The results are not based on a randomized trial. In addition, hormone use and caffeine consumption was self-reported. Finally, some cases of PD may have gone unreported.

* BOTTOM LINE Older women who take hormones may wish to consult their doctor about monitoring caffeine consumption. Those who do not take hormones may benefit somewhat from caffeine.

* FIND THIS STUDY March 11 issue of Neurology; abstract online at www.neurology.org/current.shtml.

CATARACT

Antioxidants may dampen the risk of eye disease in smokers.

* THE QUESTION Do antioxidants have any effect on age-related cataract disease?

* PAST STUDIES have shown that people with high intakes of fruit and vegetables or high levels of antioxidants in their blood have reduced risk of age-related cataract. Other research has established that smoking increases a person's risk of cataract.

* THIS STUDY involved 22,071 men, 11 percent of them smokers, who were randomly assigned to take either 50 milligrams of the antioxidant beta carotene or a placebo every other day for 12 years. Those who took beta carotene had approximately the same incidence of cataract (998) as those who took the placebo (1,017). Among the smokers, however, those taking beta carotene had fewer cases of cataract (108) than those taking the placebo (133), a difference that was considered statistically significant.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Men aged 40 and older.

* CAVEATS The study participants were well-nourished physicians, a group that is not representative of the general population. In addition, the results may not apply to women. Finally, the results need to be verified in more smokers.

* BOTTOM LINE Antioxidant supplements may not have any effect on the risk of cataracts in non-smokers. Smokers may lessen their increased risk of cataract by taking such supplements. They may wish to consult their physician, however, about the increased risk of lung cancer from taking antioxidants.

* FIND THIS STUDY March issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology or http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/121/3/372.

-- Haleh V. Samiei