Alcohol’s Positive and Negative Links to Dementia

There are a number of factors that you should consider when deciding whether or not to have a drink and how much alcohol is safe for you. Alcohol in moderation has been proven to benefit your health, actually lowering the risk of heart disease for some people and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and gallstones.

Excessive drinking on the other hand has been linked to a host of diseases including various forms of cancer.

There have also been studies that link moderate alcohol consumption to good brain health but most of those studies focused on elderly people and their recent drinking habits, which doesn’t really help us assess the effects of lifetime drinking patterns on the brain, until now.

A researcher at Inserm, Severine Sabia and her colleagues researched the effects of alcohol consumption on middle aged people and its effect on dementia later in life.

The study analysed data from a large UK database of more than 9000 middle-aged people between 35 and 55 and the findings were published in BMJ. The study showed that people who abstained from alcohol and those who drank more than 14 glasses of wine a week were at a higher risk of dementia than people who drank one to 14 glasses of wine a week/ moderate drinkers.

An article on explained more about the study,

… dementia was evaluated by medical records and death certificates; variations in how people categorized dementia could affect the results. And Sabia notes that the threshold of 14 glasses of wine (about 112g of alcohol) identified in the study is lower than what some countries recommend as healthy levels of alcohol. In the U.S., the standard alcoholic beverage contains about 14g of alcohol (almost twice that in the standard alcoholic drink in the U.K., for example), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women drink up to a drink a day, and men consume no more than two drinks a day.


According to researchers, excessive alcohol consumption, although not currently included in most countries dementia prevention guidelines, it should be included as a risk factor for dementia.

They went on to say alcohol in moderation may be beneficial in improving blood circulation by influencing blood-clotting factors that cause blockages in the heart and brain. Healthy blood flow keeps neurons healthy and enables them to communicate in their complex networks.

On the other hand excessive alcohol can negatively affect healthy tissues, building up in toxic amounts that can compromise nerve function.

While the findings represent an association between alcohol consumption and dementia, and not a cause-and-effect relationship, Sabia believes they are enough for doctors to start a conversation with their patients about their drinking habits. “As far as the research in the risk factors for dementia, we are still at the beginning,” says Sabia. “There are several risk factors that are likely to be important in midlife a long time before the early stages of dementia appear later in life. I think alcohol should now be added to this list.”