Abstaining from alcohol in middle age can increase dementia risk

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Of the 9,087 participants, 397 cases of dementia were recorded over an average follow-up period of 23 years, and average age at dementia diagnosis was 76 years, according to the study.

Scientists have shown that complete abstinence from alcohol can be as harmful as its excessive use.

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. Long term abstainers and those who reported a decrease in alcohol consumption also appeared to have an increased risk.

Because the study only tracked alcohol consumption starting in midlife, it is also possible that a prior history of heavy drinking might have contributed to dementia many decades later, one expert not involved in the study cautioned.

Alcohol consumption was measured during assessments between 1985 and 1993, when the participants had an average age of 50.

Unlike earlier research, the study did not find a link between abstinence and a shorter life expectancy, as compared to occasional drinkers.

In abstainers, the researchers show that some of the excess dementia risk was due to a greater risk of cardiometabolic disease.

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'These results suggest that abstention and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk of dementia, although the underlying mechanisms are likely to be different in the two groups, ' the authors wrote. The chances of losing your marbles are higher for those that didn't drink a drop of alcohol compared to people who consume about 1-14 units of booze per week.

Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Reearch UK, said that the study failed to take into account the persons drinking habits earlier in life.

A total of almost 400 dementia cases - with onset occurring, on average, at age 76 - were reported. With every additional seven units consumed above the recommended limit, there was a 17 per cent increase in dementia risk.

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.

"However, as this is an observational study we need longer trials to explore whether this is actually the case..."

'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.

"This study is important since it fills gaps in knowledge, but we should remain cautious and not change current recommendations on alcohol use based exclusively on epidemiological studies", according to the paper.

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