Heavy drinking, long-term abstinence could both contribute to dementia risk

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People who don't drink alcohol are at as much of a risk of developing dementia as people who drink excessively, according to a new study by researchers who recommend wine as a way to ward off the degenerative brain disease.

Previous studies indicate that moderate drinking is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, whereas both abstinence and heavy drinking are associated with a risk of dementia.

In summary, she says, "alcohol consumption of 1-14 units/week may benefit brain health; however, alcohol choices must take into account all associated risks, including liver disease and cancer".

A total of almost 400 dementia cases - with onset occurring, on average, at age 76 - were reported.

But the reasons why abstinence and excessive drinking are harmful are thought to be different.

The study also confirmed that heavy drinking is strongly linked to dementia, with a 17 per cent increase in risk for each additional seven drinks per week.

The study collected data on 9,087 civil servants who were aged between 35 and 55 in the mid-to-late 1980s and among other things categorised them by their drinking habits.

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At the end of the study, after a mean follow-up period of 23 years, there were 397 cases of dementia.

Moreover, the study showed that "excess risk of dementia in abstainers was attributable to the greater risk of cardiometabolic disease" for middle-aged non-drinkers.

People who abstain from drinking alcohol in middle age may be at a heightened risk of dementia later in life, research has found.

Guidance from the United Kingdom chief medical officer states that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week - the equivalent of around six pints of beer.

'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.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers cannot rule out the possibility that some of the risk may be due to unmeasured (confounding) factors. "This study backs what we know, and the temperance movement refuse to accept - that the J shaped curve between alcohol consumption and life expectancy is real". This being said, earlier consumption may contribute to higher dementia risk, as the illness "involves neuropathological changes over many years, perhaps decades".

"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", according to the paper.

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