By 2050, experts believe that the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will reach 14 million. As research continues to focus on potential treatment options, understanding key risk factors are also critical.
Of the possible risk factors, researchers have closely studied the impact of alcohol consumption. Some studies have shown that when drinking in moderation, you can potentially lower your risk of dementia. However, a new study has drawn more robust conclusions regarding the relationship between alcohol and dementia risk.
The Most Recent Findings Regarding Alcohol and Dementia
In the past, researchers have found that a moderate consumption of alcohol may actually lower your risk. However, some researchers believe that these studies may have been prone to biases. This is because the majority of these studies focused on alcohol consumption later in life.
Without considering lifetime alcohol consumption, it is challenging to draw such conclusions. To better understand the true impact of alcohol on dementia risk, a team of researchers began looking for patterns regarding alcohol and how intake impacts midlife into old age.
These findings were published in BMJ.
To better understand this relationship, the team examined 9,087 participants between the ages of 35 and 55 when the study first began. The average follow-up period was 23 years.
During this study period, the team assessed alcohol consumption using standard questionnaires as well as alcohol-related hospital admissions. Hospital records were also examined in relation to cases of dementia, as well as for other conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
For this study, anything over 14 standard U.K. alcohol units per week is classified as heavy drinking. In U.K. standards, 1 unit of alcohol would be equivalent to a glass of wine. In the United States, it is recommended that men do not drink more than two units per day and women should not drink more than one unit per day.
Over the course of the study, 397 people developed dementia. The researchers accounted for sociodemographic variables.
How Alcohol Impacts Dementia Risk
The researchers found that completely abstaining from alcohol in midlife, as well as heavy drinking increased the risk of dementia in comparison to those who drank moderately. While focusing on alcohol-related hospital admissions, these instances increased one’s risk by four-fold.
What was interesting, is that long-term abstinence also increased dementia risk, due to a higher rate of cardiometabolic conditions. Although the researchers found that lower thresholds of alcohol may be beneficial, they do not encourage anyone who does not currently drink to start consuming alcohol.
Alcohol misuse causes a wide range of health conditions, including poor liver health, cancer, and mortality. The researchers concluded that 1-14 unit per week may offer beneficial effects. However, it is important to consider all associated risks of alcohol in terms of long-term positive health.
Alcohol Causes Korsakoff Syndrome
Most commonly associated with alcoholism, Korsakoff Syndrome is a chronic memory disorder that develops as a result of a severe deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Since this vitamin helps the brain produce energy from glucose, a deficiency can significantly impact brain function.
There are other conditions that cause this syndrome, including anorexia, AIDS, chronic infection, and a number of other illnesses. However, alcohol misuse is the most common cause of Korsakoff syndrome. Known to cause brain damage, alcohol has a toxic effect on brain cells, increases your risk of head injuries when inebriated, and the cycle of intoxication and withdrawal leads to physiological stress.
You may read more about this syndrome in the following article: The Link Between Alcohol and Alzheimer’s Risk
If you are concerned about your current cognitive health, it is recommended that you speak with your physician as soon as possible. The BrainTest® app can help you detect early warning signs associated with cognitive impairments, including the potential development of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
To protect your cognitive health, focus on various lifestyle factors to reduce your risk of these neurodegenerative conditions. Although alcohol consumption and smoking are important areas to consider, you must also target your diet, level of physical activity, sleep patterns, and stress levels.
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