Dementia and Alcohol

If you enjoy drinking wine or cocktails, could you be putting yourself at risk of developing dementia? That question isn’t an easy one to answer since it depends on several factors including much alcohol you drink, what you’re drinking, and if you’re genetically predisposed to dementia. Read on to learn if that boozy beverage may be helping or harming your brain.

One drink or less is best. Research into how alcohol impacts the brain has concluded that excessive consumption over time can lead to blackouts, memory loss, and dementia. A 2007 statement from the American Academy of Neurology pointed to the Framingham Offspring study which studied the MRI scans of 1,839 people between the ages of 34 to 88. The participants were classified as non-drinkers, former drinkers, low drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), or high drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week). Low to moderate drinkers showed reduced cardiovascular disease while greater alcohol consumption resulted in lower brain volume, a factor in determining how the brain is aging. 

“While heavy drinkers suffer from too much alcohol, light drinkers may stand to benefit from a drink or two,” according to Dr. Kaycee Sink, a gerontologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. She noted that 1-2 drinks per day appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in adults over 75 years of age.

Researchers stress that it’s important for physicians to explain to their patients how “light” and “moderate” drinking is defined. Sink’s study considered anyone who drank one or fewer alcoholic beverages per day a “light drinker,” while moderate drinkers had two drinks or less. Study participants who threw back three or more drinks per day were classified as “excessive.”

Wine may do wonders. What you drink also appears to play a role in whether or not you can stave off dementia. Studies have shown that people who enjoy drinking wine seem to reap greater brain-boosting benefits than fans of hard liquor and cocktails. The secret? Grapevines carry a fungus-fighting molecule called reservatrol. Reservatrol is a powerful antioxidant that seems to reduce the risk of dementia. 

Genes play a factor, too. Genetics may determine if drinking is harmful or helpful to your brain. According to the National Institute on Aging, a person is at increased risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease if they have the genetic variant known as apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene on chromosome 19. There are several APOEs but it’s APOE ε4 that has specifically been linked to dementia. While APOE ε4 does not cause dementia, it can put someone at greater risk. A blood test can tell if you have an APOE variant but cannot predict if your brain health will decline.

So is sipping on an occasional alcoholic beverage a good idea? It’s probably best to have an honest talk with your doctor about your drinking habits, what you drink, and your medical history before placing your next drink order. 

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