While chronic heavy drinking was found to be linked to a higher risk for dementia, a new study suggests that people who abstain from drinking in middle age are also more likely to develop the disease. Researchers traced participants' health records for dementia using the databases of the national hospital episode statistics, the Mental Health Services Data Set, and the mortality register.
The average age of participants was 50.
So a team of researchers from Inserm (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research) based in France and from UCL in the United Kingdom set out to investigate the association between midlife alcohol consumption and risk of dementia into early old age.
'People who completely abstain from alcohol may have a history of heavy drinking and this can make it hard to interpret the links between drinking and health.
The team of French and British researchers suggested that part of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers could be attributable to the greater risk of cardiometabolic disease reported in this group.
Yasar said the findings raised the question of "a possible protective effect from moderate alcohol consumption" that was further supported by findings of an increased risk of dementia "observed only in those who abstained from wine".
Above this, though, researchers noted that those that drink heavily risked a 17% rise in risk of developing dementia for every additional 7 units consumed. However, previous research has shown non-drinkers are at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which could contribute to dementia.
Findings published in the BMJ showed that 23 years later, 397 had developed dementia, at an average age of 76.
Some good news for moderate drinkers: total abstinence from alcohol increases the risk of dementia just as much as swilling the stuff down.
The 14-drink-per-week maximum - similar to guidelines in other countries - is the equivalent of six medium (175-millilitre) glasses of wine at 13 per cent alcohol, six pints of four per cent beer, or 14 25-ml shots of 40-degree spirits.
'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'.
'The study tells us little about how drinking above low risk guidance beyond the of age of 55 affects the development of dementia.
'In contrast, there is a growing body of evidence for an association between higher-risk levels of drinking and the development of alcohol-related brain damage and dementia, ' he said.
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