Teetotallers, like big drinkers, more prone to dementia

Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

People who abstain from drinking alcohol in middle age may be at a heightened risk of dementia later in life, research has found.

Both people who drink over the recommended limits and those who are teetotal in midlife are at an increased risk, researchers found. The chances of losing your marbles are higher for those that didn't drink a drop of alcohol compared to people who consume about 1-14 units of booze per week.

Excessive drinkers - defined as those who consumed more than 14 units a week - were also found to be at risk, as with every seven-unit-per-week increase, there was a 17% rise in dementia risk.

Researchers say it's almost impossible to definitively determine the effect of alcohol consumption - as it would require a trial in which participants would have to stop drinking or start drinking heavily.

The subjects were then monitored for a further 23 years after which almost 400 cases of dementia were identified.

Findings published in the BMJ showed that 23 years later, 397 had developed dementia, at an average age of 76.

They suggested that this could attribute to a greater risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease and stroke, reinforcing the message that low levels of alcohol may have protective effects.

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"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 research concluded.

The 14-drink-per-week maximum - similar to guidelines in other countries - is the equivalent of six medium (175-millilitre) glasses of wine at 13 per cent alcohol, six pints of four per cent beer, or 14 25-ml shots of 40-degree spirits.

At the same time, the study cautioned, 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".

"Future research will need to examine drinking habits across a lifetime and this will help to shed more light on the relationship between alcohol and dementia".

However, previous research has shown non-drinkers are at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which could contribute to dementia.

Abstinence from alcohol in middle age has been linked to a heightened risk of dementia, experts have now claimed.

Dr Rao added that there were also other lifestyle factors that could affect the development of dementia and make it hard to draw any meaningful conclusions.

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