Teetotalers, like big drinkers, more prone to dementia

Going teetotal was associated with an increased risk of dementia

Going teetotal was associated with an increased risk of dementia Credit Getty

Scientists have shown that complete abstinence from alcohol can be as harmful as its excessive use.

So a team of researchers from Inserm (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research) based in France and from UCL in the United Kingdom set out to investigate the association between midlife alcohol consumption and risk of dementia into early old age.

"People who completely abstain from alcohol may have a history of heavy drinking and this can make it hard to interpret the links between drinking and health". They noted that with every seven-unit/week increase there was a significant 17 per cent increase in dementia risk. The number of sufferers is expected to triple by 2050. In moderation, of course, unless you want to increase your chances of developing dementia.

"Light-to-moderate" drinking was defined, during middle age, as one-to-14 drinks per week, corresponding to the maximum limit recommended for both men and women in Britain.

Guidance from the United Kingdom chief medical officer states that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week - the equivalent of around six pints of beer.

The study was not set up to explain why non-drinkers might be more prone to cognitive decline, but the findings offered possible clues.

In abstainers, the researchers show that some of the excess dementia risk was due to a greater risk of cardiometabolic disease.

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After taking account of sociodemographic, lifestyle, and health related factors that could have affected the results, the researchers found that abstinence in midlife or drinking more than 14 units a week was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with drinking 1-14 units of alcohol a week.

In the case of wine, earlier studies have suggested that so-called polyphenolic compounds may offer some protection to neural networks and blood vessels, but such findings remain controversial.

The study tracked the drinking habits of 9,000 civil servants from the ages of 35 and 55 - and then monitored their health for a further 23 years.

The study ran for over two decades.


A total of 397 cases of dementia were recorded.

This appears to confirm the findings of a variety of reports over time on alcohol consumption, health and life expectancy, which have suggested the evidence is weighted towards what is described as a J model, whereby no alcohol consumption is less beneficial than moderate consumption, but risk rises again with increasingly heavy consumption.

Chronic heavy drinking has been clearly established as a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially the early onset of the disease.

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