Published: Thu, February 22, 2018
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Alcohol and dementia: What's the truth?

Alcohol and dementia: What's the truth?

Those who are at risk of dementia are people consuming more than a couple of alcoholic drinks a day.

Problem drinkers be warned - you could be putting yourself at risk of developing dementia in the future.

Alcohol abuse is toxic to the brain and can damage memory. Among all men with dementia, the prevalence of alcohol use disorders climbed to 16.5%.

"A variety of measures are needed, such as reducing availability, increasing taxation, and banning advertising and marketing of alcohol, alongside early detection and treatment of alcohol use disorders", says Dr Schwarzinger.

Researchers said cutting down on alcohol consumption could be beneficial to the brain.

"What was the most surprising was the level of association between heavy alcohol use and all types of dementia", says study co-author Dr. Jurgen Rehm.

But Schwarzinger cautioned that people outside France should still take the findings seriously: "While the rate of alcohol use disorders is lower in the U.S., it remains substantial enough to be considered major risk factor for dementia onset".

The researchers studied records from the French National Hospital Discharge database of all patients, ≥20 years, in metropolitan France, tracing the hospital trajectory of each patient from 2008 to 2013.

An astonishing 39 % of patients diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65 had signs of brain damage linked to alcohol, the scientists found.

Previous research has largely focused on modest alcohol use, and its possible beneficial effect, thus overlooking the effect of heavy alcohol use as a modifiable risk factor for dementia, according to a related comment written byClive Ballard, MBChB, MRCPsych, and Iain Lang, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, U.K.

The bottom line? "Alcohol use disorders were a major risk factor for onset of all types of dementia, and especially early-onset dementia" per the study.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Public Health, found that of the 57,000 patient volunteers with dementia diagnosed before the age of 65, 57% of them were chronic heavy drinkers, meaning they consumed an average of more than five drinks per day for men and three per day for women. "However, both types of research are subject to the usual limitations of observational studies: they cannot definitely establish cause and effect, and any observed relationships are nearly certainly confounded by other factors, not all of which can be easily measured". It revealed that people who engaged in binge drinking had a 62% higher chance of suffering from decline in cognitive function.

Government guidelines for both sexes suggest no more than 14 units of alcohol a week - equivalent to a pint of beer or small glass of wine daily. "And do everything in moderation".

Instead, he recommends that people who want to reduce their risk of dementia work at maintaining a moderately healthy lifestyle.

"Although there is no surefire way to completely prevent dementia, the best current evidence indicates that as well as only drinking in moderation, staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we age".

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