Heavy Drinking May Be Linked With An Increased Risk Of Developing Dementia

Research by the Translational Health Economics Network in Paris has revealed that people who drink to ‘chronic’ levels were 3.35 times more likely to develop dementia at any age

Chronic heavy drinkers may have an increased risk of developing dementia, particularly early-onset dementia, a new study involving over one million adults has found.

"The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths", said study co-author Jurgen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada.

"The most novel result is the large contribution of alcohol-use disorders to the burden of dementia over the lifespan", said Dr. Michael Schwarzinger, a researcher at the Transitional Health Economics Network in Paris and a leading author of the study. For men, the limit is 7.5 units a day or about three pints of beer, while for women it is five units a day or four small glasses of wine.

The study, considered to be the largest in terms of database analyzed, thoroughly looked at the records of more than 30 million people that were admitted to the French National Hospital from the period of 2008 to 2013. They excluded patients with diseases that could lead to rare dementia and patients with early-life mental disorders.

But even when the researchers controlled for factors like high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol use was still associated with a more than threefold increase in dementia among both sexes.

Alcohol-use disorders refer to "the chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence", the researchers wrote. In men, the risk was increased by a factor of 4.7, while in women, it increased by a factor of 4.3.

Schwarzinger said the information collected showed that once the brain was affected by alcohol consumption, there was no way of repairing the damage.

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"As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition", said Bruce Pollock, from CAMH. It suggests that alcohol use disorders may contribute in many ways to the risk of dementia.

Overall, 6.2% of men discharged from hospital had a diagnosis of alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol use was also not objectively measured in the participants, one of the study's main limitations. Alcohol use disorder, also referred to as alcoholism, describes a pattern of drinking which has become uncontrolled and problematic. "All of these factors were found to be independent risk factors for dementia onset". "The association with alcohol use disorders was especially important in those with early-onset dementia, with most patients having alcohol-related brain damage or an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders".

Previous research has largely focused on modest alcohol use, and its possible beneficial effect, thus overlooking the effect of heavy alcohol use as a modifiable risk factor for dementia, according to a related comment written byClive Ballard, MBChB, MRCPsych, and Iain Lang, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, U.K.

Thirty nine per cent of cases were directly related to regular boozing and another 18 per cent of sufferers had been problem drinkers. But Schwarzinger said they were small studies and he personally would question whether that can be so. Future work needs to clarify whether there is a similar association between consumption volume and dementia, or whether associated problems and medical and psychiatric comorbidity drive the risk.

That's the message from the team of French scientists which just released a new study in The Lancet Public Health today, linking heavy drinking to an increased risk of dementia. Incidents of women with dementia are lower than males up to 80 years old.

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