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Dementia risk greater for middle-aged non-drinkers

Abstaining from alcohol or consuming more than 14 units a week during middle age could increase the risk of developing dementia, new research suggests.

Middle-aged non-drinkers and heavy drinkers may be at higher risk of dementia

According to a study published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ), going teetotal in midlife was connected to a higher risk of dementia (45%) compared to consuming between one and 14 units per week.

The risk was also higher for those who exceeded the UK government-recommended 14-unit weekly limit.

Researchers from Inserm, France, and University College London (UCL), followed 9,087 British civil servants who were aged between 35 and 55 when the study commenced in 1985.

Alcohol intake was measured during assessments between 1985 and 1993, when those taking part had an average age of 50. A total of 397 cases of dementia were recorded.

Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Charity, said: “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.

The researchers recommended the “use of a lower threshold of alcohol consumption” in government guidelines globally “in order to promote cognitive health”.

“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.

“What we do know is that excessive drinking is a proven cause of liver disease and cancers. We recommend that people enjoy drinking responsibly, but don’t overdo it.”

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