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Source: United Kingdom – Executive Government & Departments

Research, published in JAMA Network Open, reports on a link between a moderate but non-zero consumption of alcohol and reduced risk of developing dementia.

Dr Graham Wheeler, Senior Statistician, UCL, said:

“The results of this study do not conclusively show that drinking alcohol reduces the risk of developing dementia.

“Whilst the study estimated an average reduction in risk of developing dementia of 37% when comparing those drinking 7-14 drinks to those drinking up to 1 drink a week, this could reasonably be anywhere between a 62% reduction and a 6% increase.  For participants with MCI, there is little evidence to suggest that the 7% average reduction is genuinely due to increased alcohol consumption; it is likely due to chance.

“Alcohol consumption is self-reported, so may not be a reliable record of what participants consumed.  Also, alcohol consumption was measured by considering the intake of beer, wine and hard liquor, but no accounting for differing alcohol content between different types of drink was made.”

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There’s a well-established link between heavy drinking and the risk of dementia, but it is difficult to say whether moderate alcohol intake has any impact on brain health when compared to not drinking at all.

“Some non-drinkers may have a history of heavy alcohol use, and this makes it difficult to untangle links between drinking habits and health.

“This study only looked at people’s drinking in later life, and we don’t know about their drinking habits in their earlier years.  Research suggests that our lifestyle in middle age may have the greatest impact on our future risk of dementia.

“There are many good health reasons to keep an eye on how much alcohol you’re drinking.  Current alcohol guidelines recommend not regularly drinking more than 14 units a week for both men and women.

“Dementia is caused by physical diseases of the brain, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk of developing dementia.  The best current evidence indicates that as well as only drinking within the recommended guidelines, 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 keep the brain healthy as we age.”

‘Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults With or Without Mild Cognitive Impairment’ by Manja Koch et al. was published in JAMA Network Open at 16:00 BST on Friday 27 September 2019.

DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10319

Declared interests

Dr Graham Wheeler: “I am employed by UCL, am a Fellow, Chartered Statistician and Statistical Ambassador of the Royal Statistical Society, and a voluntary research committee member for Chiltern Music Therapy, a not-for-profit organisation providing music therapy services.  I have previously received honoraria from Novametrics Consulting Ltd.”

None others received.

MIL OSI United Kingdom