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Excessive drinking may be linked to early dementia risk: French study

For the study, researchers examined data from 2008-2013 on more than 31 million French hospital patients, including more than 1 million who were diagnosed with dementia

Lisa Rapaport | Reuters 

Excessive drinking may be linked to early dementia risk: French study

may be more likely than other adults to develop dementia, especially in middle age, a suggests.

For the study, researchers examined data from 2008-2013 on more than 31 million French hospital patients, including more than 1 million who were diagnosed with About 5 per cent of the patients had so-called early onset that started before age 65, and most of these cases were alcohol-related, the study found.

“Chronic heavy drinking was the most important modifiable risk factor for onset in both genders and remained so after controlling for all known risk factors for onset,” said lead study author Michael Schwarzinger, chief executive officer of Translational Economics Network and a researcher at INSERM–Universite Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cite in France.

Surprisingly, who got sober didn’t have a lower risk than their peers who remained problem drinkers,” Schwarzinger said by email. “This finding supports that chronic heavy drinking leads to irreversible brain damage,” Schwarzinger added.

While some previous research suggests that alcohol may lead to cognitive impairments including a risk of dementia, other studies have linked light or moderate alcohol use to a healthier brain, researchers note in the Lancet Public

Globally, an estimated 3.3 million people a year die as a result of alcohol misuse, accounting for about 6 percent of all deaths, according to the Organization (WHO).

The WHO defines chronic heavy drinking as more than 60 grams of pure alcohol, or at least 6 drinks, for men and more than 40 grams, or at least 4 drinks, for women.

During the study period, 945,512 people were diagnosed with alcohol use disorders. Most of these cases were alcohol dependency.

Overall, about 3 per cent of the cases were attributable to alcohol-related brain damage, and other alcohol use disorders were recorded in almost 5 percent of cases.

With early onset cases, however, the connection to alcohol appeared stronger. About 39 percent of these cases were attributable to alcohol-related brain damage, and another 18 percent were tied to other alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol use disorders were associated with three times the risk of and twice the risk of early onset cases, the study found. Excluding alcohol-related brain damage, alcohol use disorders were still associated with a two times greater risk of vascular and other dementias.

Alcohol use disorders were also associated with all other independent risk factors for dementia, such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower education, depression, and hearing loss.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how drinking might cause or cause cognitive problems to develop in middle age.

Another limitation is that researchers used hospital administrative records to identify cases, and it’s possible the condition might have been recorded when patients had multiple medical problems, researchers note. Similarly, alcohol use disorders were identified through records of rehabilitation programs, which might not include all individuals with drinking problems.

Because the study focused on heavy drinkers, it also doesn’t provide insight into how much a drink or two a day might be linked to an increased risk of dementia, if at all.

Even so, the findings add to the evidence that heavy drinking can lead to cognitive problems, said Clive Ballard co-author of an accompanying editorial and Dean of the medical school at the University of Exeter in the U.K.

“Seven drinks per day in men and five drinks per day in women are harmful to the brain,” Ballard said by email. “But levels of recommended alcohol consumption are already lower than this, and this provides additional reinforcement of those recommendations.”

First Published: Sat, March 10 2018. 20:14 IST
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