30 Sep How Does Alcohol Affect the Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline?
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Manja Koch Dr. oec. troph. (Ph.D. equivalent)
Department of Nutrition
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Majken K. Jensen, PhD
Associate Professor of Nutrition
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are highly prevalent conditions. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 50 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias worldwide.
Given the lack of a cure or even disease-modifying therapies for most dementias, the identification of risk factors or factors that prevent or delay the onset of dementia remains of paramount concern.
Alcohol is a globally consumed beverage and light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, tends to be associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, a major risk factor for dementia. However, the effects of light-to-moderate alcohol intake on the brain are less clear.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? What do you think accounts for these associations?
Response: The associations between alcohol consumption and dementia risk were statistically significantly different when comparing participants with and without mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at study start. This indicates that alcohol intake is not related to future dementia risk in the same way in these two groups of older adults. As a result, physicians should be careful to tailor advice about alcohol based on several factors including cognitive status. Of note, our study population of elder adults (aged 72 years and older) had a limited range of alcohol intake, thus we cannot know what results would look like for heavier drinking. The underlying biological mechanisms linking alcohol consumption to dementia risk are not fully understood. However, alcohol is known to be neurotoxic in heavy amounts. The underlying pathological processes that lead to mild cognitive impairment might make remaining brain cells even more susceptible to alcohol, but this requires further research.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Our findings provide some reassurance that alcohol consumed within recommended limits were not associated with an elevated risk of dementia among older adults with normal cognition. Nevertheless, patients should talk to their physicians about alcohol intake who can provide individualized risk assessments.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Our findings warrant additional studies to shed light on whether even consumption of light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol as compared with non-drinking may be associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia in adults with mild cognitive impairment.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Given the clear risks and costs of its overuse, and the uncertain balance of risks and benefits of moderate use, physicians should counsel patients who choose to drink, that they should do so in moderation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and American Geriatrics Society both suggest a limit of 7 drinks/week among older adults who consume alcohol.
Manja Koch and myself do not have any COIs. Please see paper for other authors.
Koch M, Fitzpatrick AL, Rapp SR, et al. Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults With or Without Mild Cognitive Impairment. JAMA Netw Open. Published online September 27, 20192(9):e1910319. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.10319
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