Cutting back on Alcohol for a Lower Risk of Dementia

on Thursday, 15 January 2015. Posted in Breaking News

Dementia is a serious and often very painful condition that claims the memories and limits the functioning of an elderly person's brain. There is currently no known cure for this disease that can severely limit a person's ability to interact with others or have awareness of the surrounding world.

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is claiming the lives of 5 million sufferers, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control. Furthermore, that number is expected to increase to 14 million by 2050, which would cause untold difficulties for elderly and their families, and cost the government billions of dollars each year.

While there are likely multiple causes and risk factors, recent research from England suggests that one thing we can do to prevent dementia: avoid heavy alcohol consumption.

The research

A 2009 study lead by Dr. Jane Marshal and other researchers at the University College of London ran memory tests for 26 people in early recovery for alcohol dependence and heavy alcohol use, comparing them to 29 people whose alcohol consumption habits are moderate. The starting results found that the moderate drinkers could recall a memory 76% of the time, while heavy drinkers could only do so 51% of the time.

Dependent drinkers also took longer to recall their memories, an average of almost 19 seconds verses 13.6 seconds, indicating that finding the memory took more mental work. A later, 2014 study out the UCL traced 5,000 men and 2,000 women over the course of ten years, finding that men who consumed more then 2.5 alcoholic beverages a day were significantly more prone to develop memory loss and decline in cognitive functions, as much as six years earlier then would be expected.

These study, and others like it, suggest there is a very strong link between heavy drinking and memory loss. It is already readily apparent that drinking heavily can severely limit mental processing, in the moments of intoxication.

What is startling about this research is that it shows that, over a long period of time, heavy drinking can affect the body and brain in more permanent ways. Dr. Marshal even suggests that alcohol can be a contributing factor in one in four cases of dementia.

How alcoholism and dementia are linked

Alcohol affects both the body and the mind in long-term, often serious ways. The liver is responsible for absorbing alcohol and removing it from the bloodstream, but whatever goes beyond what your liver is capable of handling, goes to the rest of your body, including your brain.

This is how alcohol use at high levels can harm your brain, limiting its ability to function. In particular, alcohol, and the poor diet that often accompanies the empty calories of heavy alcohol use, can sometimes deplete the body's levels of thiamine, or vitamin B1, that can limit the memory's ability to function well.

Alistair Burns' advice for the new year

In response to this earthshattering research, Alistair Burns, the National Clinical Director for Dementia for England's National Health Service urged people to reduce and control their drinking as a way to avoid the onset of dementia later in life. Speaking to the London newspaper The Telegraph, Dr. Burns encouraged people to make cutting back on drinking one of their goals for the new year.

He said that "cutting down can make a huge difference...It can be very easy for one glass to lead to two and then to a bottle and this can seriously increase you risk of developing dementia in later life along with many other health conditions." The NHS recommends that, while the amount of alcohol someone can handle can vary on the basis of gender, weight, and many other factors, that in generally most people avoid more then three units (roughly half a beer, or a small glass of wine) of alcohol a day.


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