Like most people, I’ve long assumed whiskey can have a negative impact on memory. The first time I drank whiskey (as a teenager, I’m sorry to say), my only memory after the fourth or fifth shot was of a glowing star dancing in front of my face. I later realized, while helping my drinking buddy clean the room where we drank the whiskey, that the dancing star was the burning end of a cigarette. Neither of us remembered smoking the cigarettes, but we sure cleaned up quite a few of them.
My belief that whiskey affects memory was strengthened during my college years. My roommate and I mostly drank beer at parties, but occasionally indulged in Jack Daniel’s. The Jack Daniel’s nights sometimes led to a series of next-day phone calls intended to ascertain, say, why my car was parked in the middle of a courtyard, and why some guy I didn’t recognize was snoring in the back seat.
So yeah, I just always figured whiskey is bad for memory, at least in the short term.
Well, I should know better than to form medical opinions based on anecdotal evidence. Turns out whiskey doesn’t affect memory. I know this because I recently conducted a careful study comparing the effects of gin and whiskey on memory, and there was no statistically significant difference. That means we don’t need to be concerned with whiskey’s effect on the brain. I could even write a news article with the headline:
STUDY QUESTIONS WHISKEY, MEMORY LOSS CONNECTION
What, you say that’s a ridiculous conclusion? Well, of course it is. But it’s no more ridiculous than the conclusions from a study that generated this headline:
Beginning treatment with a statin was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk of developing acute memory loss within 30 days in a retrospective cohort study …
Yeah, so that would lead me to conclude statins are bad for memory.
… but a similar increase in risk was seen in patients starting non-statin lipid-lowering drugs.
WTF?!! Does that somehow exonerate statins? Let’s read on.
Compared with non-users, both statin and non-statin lipid-lowering drug (LLD) use was found to be associated with acute memory loss in the weeks following treatment initiation, but there was no difference in memory loss when statins and non-statins were compared with each other, researcher Brian L. Strom, MD, of Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and colleagues wrote online June 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
I see. So Dr. Strom compared the effects of whiskey and gin on memory loss and found them to be the same. No worries about whiskey, then. Next thing you know, Dr. Strom will be suggesting people who drink whiskey and gin just think they’re experiencing more memory loss.
The observation that all LLDs were associated with memory loss suggests that either all drugs used to lower lipid levels cause acute memory loss or that the observed memory loss in the study was due to detection bias, Strom said.
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
In a telephone interview with MedPage Today, Strom said it makes sense that patients on a new drug would be more likely to notice symptoms and attribute them to the drug, and they are also more likely to report such symptoms to their physician.
Riiiiight. Statins (and other lipid-lowering drugs) don’t actually cause memory loss, ya see. It’s just that people on statins who were going to have memory issues anyway are more likely to blame the drug. Kind of like one of those next-day phone conversations in college …
“Hello? Oh, hey, Mark. What? Of course I’m alive! Why wouldn’t I be? Uh-huh … uh-huh … I said WHAT?! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! Well, hell no, I don’t remember! Look, just do me a favor and tell her it was the Jack Daniel’s talking!”
Several previous studies have shown acute memory loss associated with the use of statins, but others have not shown the association or have even shown improved memory in long-term statin users compared with non-users.
Strom noted that without the non-statin LLD control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between statin initiation and short-term memory loss.
“In the absence of this control group, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.
Okay, to illustrate the deep and wide stupidity of that statement, imagine this quote about my whiskey-and-gin comparison study.
Naughton noted that without the gin-only control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between whiskey and short-term memory loss.
“In the absence of this gin-only control group for comparison, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.
Strom said the study findings should reassure both patients and physicians who prescribe statins.
Naughton said the study findings should reassure both college students who drink whiskey and the liquor-store owners who sell the whiskey.
“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with statins is really a tempest in a teapot,” he said. “Statins are very effective drugs, and people should not veer away from them for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term statin use improves memory.”
“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with whiskey is really a tempest in a teapot,” Naughton said. “Whiskey is a very effective drink, and people should not veer away from it for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term whiskey use improves memory.”
Strom reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis and Pfizer. A co-author reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck.
Naughton reported receiving research funding from Jack Daniel’s and Old Grand-Dad and serving as consultant to Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Jameson’s. A co-author reported receiving research funding from Knob Creek and Barton Reserve and serving as a consulting to Glen Morangie, Glenfiddich, Canadian Club and Bushmill’s.
Here’s the bottom line: beating down your cholesterol is bad for your brain, whether you do it with a statin or another drug. Comparing statins to non-statin LLDs doesn’t change that … any more than drinking gin instead of whiskey will explain why that strange dude is snoring in the back seat of your car.