Not drinking alcohol in middle age linked to increased risk of dementia

Henrietta Strickland
August 3, 2018

Among excessive drinkers - those who consumed more than 14 units per week, the equivalent of over four pints of five per cent ABV beer or six 175ml glasses of average strength wine - experts found a heightened risk of dementia which increased the more a person drank.

The long-term study - which tracked the health of civil servants working in London - found that both groups of people who drank over the recommended limits and also those who have abstained from alcohol entirely were at an increased risk of contracting the disease. The chances of losing your marbles are higher for those that didn't drink a drop of alcohol compared to people who consume about 1-14 units of booze per week.

The participants, with an average age of 50, had the amount they drank monitored between 1985 and 2004.

The subjects were then monitored for a further 23 years after which almost 400 cases of dementia were identified.

The results were based on a review of medical records rather than the more scientifically rigorous clinical trials used to assess new drugs, and the number of cases examined was relatively small.

Currently, the United Kingdom guidelines for the consumption of alcohol stand at 14 units per week for both men and women.

"Future research will need to examine drinking habits across a whole lifetime, and this will help to shed more light on the relationship between alcohol and dementia", Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, told the Science Media Centre.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines "chronic heavy drinking" as more than 60 grammes of pure alcohol - six or more standard drinks - a day for men, and in excess of 40 grammes per day for women.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the recently published research, however, was the discovery that doing the exact opposite of excessive drinking - abstinence from alcohol consumption in middle-age - is a factor for developing the illness as well.

The researchers aren't sure why exactly, but it could be something to do with the fact that some of the added risk for dementia comes from a greater risk of stroke.

"A good motto tends to be, what is good for your heart is good for your brain".

However, previous research has shown non-drinkers are at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which could contribute to dementia.

'We know that a third of older people with alcohol misuse develop this for the first time in later life. "However, alcohol choices must take into account all associated risks, including liver disease and cancer".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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