Not drinking alcohol in middle age 'increases dementia risk'

Not drinking alcohol in middle age 'increases dementia risk'

However, the underlying mechanisms are likely to be different in the two groups. Given the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050 and the absence of a cure, prevention is key, " the study's authors said. The UK guidelines suggest an alcohol threshold of 14 units/week but many countries use a much higher threshold to define excessive consumption.

Both people who drink over the recommended limits and those who are teetotal in midlife are at an increased risk, researchers found.

Some drinking is better than none at all it seems, especially when it concerns dementia risk for people in middle age.

A new study, published in The BMJ, examined data on more than 9,000 people taking part in the Whitehall II study - which tracked the health of civil servants working in London.

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

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

The subjects were then monitored for a further 23 years after which almost 400 cases of dementia were identified. Average age at dementia diagnosis was 76 years. In fact, researchers found those who abstain from alcohol are 45 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who drink about half a bottle of wine per week.

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14 units of alcohol per week equates to six pints of average-strength beer.

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

However, the researchers said that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and they cannot rule out the possibility that some of the risk may be due to unmeasured factors.

'In contrast, there is a growing body of evidence for an association between higher-risk levels of drinking and the development of alcohol-related brain damage and dementia, ' he said.

The authors say while the study is important to fill gaps in knowledge, "we should remain cautious and not change current recommendations on alcohol use based exclusively on epidemiological studies".

In the case of wine, earlier studies have suggested that so-called polyphenolic compounds may offer some protection to neural networks and blood vessels, but such findings remain controversial.

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".

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