Study reveals a significant link between heavy alcohol use and dementia

Heavy drinking played a role in more than half of the 57,000 cases studied
Heavy drinking played a role in more than half of the 57,000 cases studied
Author

22 February, 2018

"The link between dementia and alcohol use disorders.is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage", said lead author Michael Schwarzinger, a scientist at the Translational Health Economics Network in Paris.

The study used data from the French National Hospital Discharge database, which holds details on all hospital admissions, including patient demographics, reasons for hospital stay, and treatments received. Of 57,000 cases, 38% were "alcohol related by definition" and another 18% featured an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, per the Guardian.

Alcohol use disorders were also linked to other independent risk factors for dementia onset, like high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, depression, lower education, diabetes, and hearing loss, among modifiable risk factors.

This has huge public health implications for the prevention of dementia, for which we have no current cures or significant treatments.' Dr David Llewellyn, of the University of Exeter, praised the 'thought-provoking" study but stressed other factors may be at play, adding: "'Reducing heavy drinking may not reduce dementia risk or delay its onset'.

Of particular interest was the connection between alcohol abuse and early-onset dementia which starts developing before the age of 65.

"Additionally, clinicians should be better aware of the role of alcohol use disorders in dementia onset over the lifetime, which seems to be a risk factor often omitted".

What is alcohol use disorder?

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To pinpoint the direct link between heavy alcohol drinking to dementia, the researchers excluded patients with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's, which can both lead to dementia.

Alcohol use disorders are the most important preventable risk factors for the onset of all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia, showed the study of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France. "Before our study ... alcohol was not even listed among the most important risk factors for dementia". What they found was the 57 per cent of these cases were related to chronic heavy drinking.

It also raises the risk of head injuries, stroke and heart problems, which in turn can lead to increased dementia risk.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic heavy drinking includes consuming more than 60 grams of pure alcohol on average per day for men (averaging out to four to five Canadian standard drinks) and 40 grams for women (about three standard drinks).

"If all these measures are implemented widely, they could not only reduce dementia incidence or delay dementia onset, but also reduce all alcohol-attributable morbidity and mortality", the researchers wrote. Around three per cent of dementia cases were attributable to alcohol-related brain damage while other alcohol use disorders were recorded in nearly five per cent. Alcohol use disorder was the primary exposure, and dementia was the main outcome.

But Schwarzinger cautioned that people outside France should still take the findings seriously: "While the rate of alcohol use disorders is lower in the US, it remains substantial enough to be considered major risk factor for dementia onset".


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