Abstinence from alcohol linked to dementia

A new study shows that abstinence from alcohol is linked to dementia. The study titled, “Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: 23 year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study,” results appear in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal.

Image Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock

The main objective of this study led by research associate Séverine Sabia from Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, Université Paris-Saclay, France and overseen by Professors Annie Britton, Mika Kivimäki and Archana Singh-Manoux from Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK, was to examine the association between alcohol consumption and risk of developing dementia.

The new study involved 9,087 civil servants working in London aged between 35 and 55 years at the start of the study. The data came from the Whitehall II study. The study began between 1985 and 1988 and was concluded in 1993 when the average age of the participants was around 50. These participants were all followed up for 23 years after the study stopped. Results revealed that those who were abstaining from alcohol during their midlife years had a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who were taking anywhere between 1 to 14 units of alcohol per week. Results showed that there were a total of 397 cases of dementia over the 23 years of follow up.

Further, those taking over 14 units of alcohol per week were increasing their chances of getting dementia. For every seven unit per week increase above 14 units per week, there was a 17 percent rise in the risk of dementia said the study authors. The study concludes, “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 add that many of the abstainers alongside also had other ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. These raised their risk of getting dementia. These ailments further could be the reason why the individuals were abstaining. This would make drinking just a “red herring” and abstinence would not thus be linked to dementia, they explain.

The authors concluded however that these “findings encourage the downward revision of such guidelines to promote cognitive health at older ages.” They write in the conclusions, “Given the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050 and the absence of a cure, prevention is key.” They explain that the UK guidelines suggest an alcohol threshold of 14 units per week, as excessive drinking.

Several countries use a higher level they write. “The present study encourages the use of a lower threshold of alcohol consumption in such guidelines, applicable over the adult life course, in order to promote cognitive health,” they sign off. While experts are not on the same page, they agree that more studies are necessary before recommendations can be changed or amended. As of now alcohol consumption beyond recommendations remain harmful for both physical and cognitive health.

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