A new study suggests that people who have abstained from alcohol for decades or more (also known as teetotallers) are at a higher risk of dementia late in life than people who drink moderately. In particular, long-term teetotallers were 50 percent more likely to suffer Alzheimer’s or another kinda of neurodegenerative disease than moderate drinkers.
“These results suggest that abstention and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk of dementia, although the underlying mechanisms are likely to be different in the two groups,” the authors said.
It’s important to note, however, that heavy drinking increased dementia risk even more, albeit for different reasons. In addition, the research team behind the study examined medical records instead of conducting clinical trials, and the amount of cases examined was fairly small.
Nevertheless, the results are robust. Sevil Yasar of the John Hopkins School of Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study, says that it should prompt trials to examine “the possible protective effect of light-to-moderate alcohol use on risk of dementia.”
“Some of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers was explained by great risk of cardiometric disease,” such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, according to the study’s lead author Severine Sabia.
But the study warned that the findings “should not motivate people who do not drink to start drinking given the known detrimental effects of alcohol consumption for mortality, neuropsychiatric disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer.”
“One-to-14 units a week may benefit brain health,” Yasar said. “However, alcohol choices must take into account all associated risks, including liver disease and cancer.”