Published: Sat, August 04, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Abstaining from alcohol in middle age can increase dementia risk

Abstaining from alcohol in middle age can increase dementia risk

"We show that both long-term alcohol abstinence and excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of dementia".

Scientists examined data on more than 9,000 people, who were aged between 35 and 55 when the study began in the mid-1980s. Both those who drink over the recommended limits and those who are teetotal in midlife are at an increased risk, researchers found.

They were then monitored for, on average, another 23 years.

In an accompanying BMJ editorial commentary Sevil Yasar, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the United States, said the study contained a number of significant findings.

But for the poor civil servants chugging more sauce, going beyond another 7 units more per week increased the chance of dementia by 17 per cent. Surprise, surprise this group was more likely to be beer drinkers.

"These results suggest that abstention and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk of dementia, although the underlying mechanisms are likely to be different in the two groups", the authors said. "However, adjustment for confounding factors did not alter the findings".

She added that the next steps for research should be confirmation of the findings in other long-term studies, which would need to be "funded exclusively" by government agencies to avoid bias.

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

Because the study only tracked alcohol consumption starting in midlife, it is also possible that a prior history of heavy drinking might have contributed to dementia many decades later, one expert not involved in the study cautioned.

She said: "People who completely abstain from alcohol may have a history of heavy drinking and this can make it hard to interpret the links between drinking and health".

Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Reearch UK, said that the study failed to take into account the persons drinking habits earlier in life.

Chronic heavy drinking has been clearly established as a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially the early onset of the disease.

'People with a history of heavy drinking who abstain for health reasons and those who under-report their drinking also makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions'.

This study is important since it fills gaps in knowledge, "but we should remain cautious and not change current recommendations on alcohol use based exclusively on epidemiological studies", says Sevil Yasar at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in a linked editorial.

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