Moderate drinkers less likely to get dementia than teetotallers

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Those who didn't drink in middle age were found to have a 45% higher risk of dementia. During this time dementia was diagnosed in 397 participants. They were aged from 35 to 55 when the study began. 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.

People who abstain from alcohol or consume more than 14 units a week during middle age (midlife) are at increased risk of developing dementia, finds a study in The BMJ today.

The long-term study by the British Medical Journal has found that people who abstained from alcohol and those who drank more than the recommended limits had a heightened risk of developing the disease in later life. "However, adjustment for confounding factors did not alter the findings".

"The next steps should include confirmation of findings in other long term cohort studies and ideally a randomised clinical trial, to answer pressing questions about the possible protective effects of light to moderate alcohol use on risk of dementia and the mediating role of cardiovascular disease".

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The study also confirmed that heavy drinking is strongly linked to dementia, with a 17 per cent increase in risk for each additional seven drinks per week.

"Some of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers was explained by greater risk of cardiometric disease", such as stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes, Sabia and her team concluded.

In Britain 14 units of alcohol a week is the recommended maximum for men and women, equivalent to six pints of beer or glasses of wine spread evenly across the week.

The researchers are also careful to say these findings "should not motivate people who do not drink to start drinking" given the detrimental effects alcohol consumption can have on other parts of your health, such as liver disease and cancer.

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After taking account of sociodemographic, lifestyle, and health related factors that could have affected the results, the researchers found that abstinence in midlife or drinking more than 14 units a week was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with drinking 1-14 units of alcohol a week.

Dr Tony Rao, an old age psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists" Addictions Faculty, said: "These results should be interpreted with a high degree of caution.

With heavy drinking, however, dementia became even more prevalent, though for different reasons.

Dr Rao added that there were also other lifestyle factors that could affect the development of dementia and make it hard to draw any meaningful conclusions.

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