Alcohol is the Biggest Risk Factor in Dementia


Recent research shows Alcohol has become the single largest threat to Dementia; greater than hypertension, depression and smoking. 

The effect of alcohol abuse on the body, various organs, and personal life is well-known and documented. But, a new study has revealed a shocking truth about the influence of excessive drinking on the brain. 

The Lancet Public Health journal recently published a report claiming there is strong evidence to prove the impact of alcohol abuse - sometimes serious enough to require hospitalisation, on the development of early-onset dementia (dementia before the age of 65). The report has also driven medical experts to think about the long-term cognitive effects of moderate drinking.


What the research found about Alcohol and Dementia

The researchers turned to the French Hospital Discharge database for the study. They closely examined the medical records of over 30 million patients that underwent treatment and left hospital between 2008 and 2013. They narrowed their focus on patients diagnosed with dementia during this period. The researchers then excluded those cases where dementia was the result of neurological disorders or infectious diseases.

Out of the million patients, included in the research, more than half – 57% of patients with early-onset dementia – were related to alcohol use disorder. The researchers found in more than a third of the 57,000 patients heavy drinking was directly linked to brain damage and dementia, and in 18% of the cases, excessive alcohol consumption was one of the reasons for the onset of the disease. On the whole, the study clearly proves that alcohol triples the risk of all types of dementia.


Why is the new study partly surprising?

We knew this for a long time – heavy alcohol use can negatively affect physical and mental health. Then why are some surprised by the findings of the new study? That’s because, last year, the Lancet journal carried a report on dementia that did not list heavy drinking as one of the preventable risk factors that cause cognitive impairment.

Interestingly, after the publication of the report, doctors have taken note of the damage that heavy drinking can do to mental health. Now, heavy drinking is not just one of the many risk factors causing dementia, it has become the single largest threat, even sidelining factors such as hypertension, depression, smoking, etc.

That’s not all. Apart from being the leading cause of cognitive decline, alcohol also leads to the development of depression, hypertension, smoking, and obesity – other known factors that contribute to early-onset of dementia.

Experts confess knowing the ill effects of drinking for a long time. It’s well-known that chronic alcoholism causes thiamine deficiency and that the neurotoxic effects of alcohol cause brain damage. So, some doctors are surprised that it has taken them so long to recognize the role of alcohol in the development of dementia. Now they say it’s time to change attitudes and take some real action to address the issue.


How much is too much?

Not too long ago – one year to be precise – alcoholics were celebrating with a glass in hand at a Valencia University study that claims light to moderate levels of alcohol reduced the risk of dementia. But, researchers and doctors categorically brush aside these studies with small sample sizes. They feel there is overwhelming evidence to link alcohol with dementia.

Now, the question is not, whether or not drinking can cause brain damage. Instead, it’s ‘how much alcohol is too much?’ This question is answered by a study in the British Medical Journal. The publication reveals that people who consume between 14-21 units of alcohol in a week are three times more likely to suffer from memory loss due to alcohol-related brain damage. In the United Kingdom, the Chief Medical Officers’ recommendation is to drink less than 14 units per week to keep the risk at a lower level.


How to reduce the risk of dementia?

To reduce the risk of early-onset of dementia and premature death, policymakers and doctors need to come up with strategies and take effective steps to prevent and reduce alcohol consumption among men and women. Alcohol-related brain damage has both social and economic implications. In the United States, Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia costs the American society around $259 billion each year.

If you think you’re too young to cut down on alcohol or worry about dementia, then you’re wrong. Researchers say that the damage to the brain cells by heavy drinking cannot be repaired. Those who reduce alcohol consumption, abstain for a short period, or totally give up drinking, may avoid premature death, but that doesn’t reduce the risk of developing dementia.

You don’t have to wait for the policymakers to increase taxation, open treatment centres, and reduce the availability of alcohol. There are many ways to ditch the booze; the most beneficial method that addresses all the underlying causes and offers complete recovery from alcoholism is yoga therapy. Yoga focuses on harmonising the body, mind, and spirit, hence the benefits are permanent, and the risk of relapse is nil.