What is regarded as safe may not be, and heavy drinking looks more catastrophic than expected.
A new wow! study of 31 million French adults finds that heavy drinking triples your odds of dementia, especially before age 65. More than half of such early onset dementia is tied to alcohol abuse. In fact, drinking excessively is the worst thing you can do to bring on dementia, beating out smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the new study in The Lancet, a highly respected British medical journal.
The clear message: “Heavy drinking causes lifelong brain damage.”
Researchers say young alcohol abusers especially should be on high alert for cognitive problems and intervene aggressively before the damage is irreversible. That means stop drinking or limit yourself to one or two drinks a day and no binge drinking.
Even so, a new British study suggests less alcohol may not be as safe as previously thought over a lifetime. Brain MRIs revealed abnormal structural damage and cognitive decline in “moderate drinkers” tracked from age 43 over a 30-year period. Specifically, they had less-dense grey matter, a smaller hippocampus (the so called memory center of the brain), and more disruption of white matter, risk factors for dementia. Moderate drinkers also scored lower on certain aspects of cognitive testing than light drinkers or abstainers.
Most striking: the damage was dose-dependent. The more alcohol, the worse the hippocampal shrinkage, signifying increased cognitive loss and risk of dementia. Specifically, consuming 14-21 units of alcohol a week -- equal to four pints of beer or five 6-ounce glasses of wine--tripled the rate of hippocampal shrinkage. Yes, that’s far less than one drink a day, generally considered non-harmful or beneficial.
As for light drinking (1-7 units of alcohol weekly)—the Brits did not find it protected your brain against cognitive decline compared to abstaining.
This new research differs from other findings that suggest a protective effect from one drink per day for women and two for men.
Sources: 1.Contribution of alcohol disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008--13: Schwarzinger M. Lancet Public Health. 2018 Feb 20. PII:S2468--2667. 2.Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcome and cognitive decline: Aya Topiwala, BMJ 2017; 357:J2353
*This report is a regular update of scientific research that has occurred after the publication of Prevent Alzheimer's & Dementia NOW!, Jean Carper's companion book of advice to Monster in the Mind.