Recently, a new study exploring the links between chronic alcohol overconsumption and risk for dementia has made the headlines, indicating how alcohol might be a much bigger risk factor than what previously thought.
The study stresses the risk associated with heavy drinking and notices how even abstaining from alcohol after a period of abuse, while reducing the risk of death in a hospital setting, does not have any impact on dementia onset.
While the study was certainly well designed and provided valuable insight on the dangers of heavy drinking in relation to dementia, it can be interesting to have a look at a large systemic review of the literature of the topic, conducted in 2008.
The literature review indicates how alcohol should not be demonized, as it may actually lower the risk for dementia. The key, however, is moderation. Unfortunately, the researchers were not able to identify what exactly “drinking in moderation” means, since different studies they looked at were conducted in different countries, which may vary with regards to standard alcohol unit and drinking habits. Furthermore, is it drinking moderately that protects against dementia, or is it the fact that those who drink in moderation, may live more moderate lives in general and engage in more healthy habits and activities than heavy drinkers? It is hard to tell. In addition, those who are aware of the risks of over-drinking tend to be more highly educated, which is a factor also known to play a role in the risk of developing dementia. Noticeably, red wine appeared to have the strongest evidence for its effect on lowering the risk for dementia.
While these findings are interesting and important, the researchers also warn that they should be taken with caution, since it is virtually impossible to do intervention studies, and the best evidence come just from longitudinal studies.
At Geras Solutions we are proponent of lifestyle changes, including diet interventions such as those included in the FINGER and DASH protocols, both multi-modal intervention protocols designed to prevent dementia and slow down its progression. Parts of these protocols actually includes drinking one glass of red wine per day. You can read more about the FINGER and DASH protocols here.
sources: Schwarzinger, M., et al. (2018), Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008-13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study, The Lancet, 3(3), 2018.
Peters, R., et al. (2008), Alcohol, dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly: a systematic review, Age and Ageing, 37(5), pp. 505-512.