Study finds long-term abstinence and heavy drinking may increase dementia risk

A study published in The BMJ today suggests that people who abstain from alcohol or consume more than 14 units a week during middle age (midlife) are at increased risk of developing dementia.

A team of researchers from Inserm, France, and University College London (UCL) made these findings based on 9,087 British civil servants aged between 35 and 55 in 1985 who were taking part in the Whitehall II Study, which is looking at the impact of social, behavioural, and biological factors on long term health.

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, says:

'Despite being one of the UK’s top causes of death, we are still unable to cure, slow down, or even prevent dementia. That is why Alzheimer’s Society’s researchers are burning the midnight oil to better understand mid-life risk factors, which could reduce our risk of developing this devastating condition.
'By finding evidence that drinking lots of alcohol, and also drinking no alcohol at all both increase dementia risk, this study supports other work that continues to question whether drinking up to the equivalent of six glasses of wine per week might have a protective effect against dementia. However, as this is an observational study we need longer trials to explore whether this is actually the case. Particularly as we know people tend to underestimate their alcohol consumption. We also need to consider the ethical challenges of asking participants to drink alcohol when we know it’s damaging to their health.
'While this study does throw up questions about alcohol and dementia, there could be other risk factors at play. What we do know is that excessive drinking is a proven cause of liver disease and cancers. We recommend that people enjoy a drink responsibly, but don’t overdo it.'