Going teetotal was associated with an increased risk of dementia
04 August, 2018, 20:24
People who abstain from alcohol or consume more than 14 units a week during middle age (midlife) are at increased risk of developing dementia, finds a study in The BMJ today.
The subjects were then monitored for a further 23 years after which almost 400 cases of dementia were identified.
Researchers say it's almost impossible to definitively determine the effect of alcohol consumption - as it would require a trial in which participants would have to stop drinking or start drinking heavily.
At the same time, the study cautioned, the findings "should not motivate people who do not drink to start drinking given the known detrimental effects of alcohol consumption for mortality, neuropsychiatric disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer".
They noted that with every increase of seven units per week there was a significant 17 per cent increase in dementia risk.
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.
"The next steps should include confirmation of findings in other long term cohort studies and ideally a randomised clinical trial, to answer pressing questions about the possible protective effects of light to moderate alcohol use on risk of dementia and the mediating role of cardiovascular disease". Both those who drink over the recommended limits and those who are teetotal in midlife are at an increased risk, researchers found.
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In Britain 14 units of alcohol a week is the recommended maximum for men and women, equivalent to six pints of beer or glasses of wine spread evenly across the week. 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.
'The study tells us little about how drinking above low risk guidance beyond the of age of 55 affects the development of dementia.
'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'.
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.
"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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