Moderate Wine Consumption and Risk of Dementia

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Just when you bought that favorite Merlot to share with friends, new research published in the journal Aging and Mental Health may have dropped a wet blanket on your happy hour.

A recent research study suggests that drinking 4 glasses of wine or four pints of beer per week raises the risk of dementia.

Scientists recently discovered that even moderate drinking may impact short-term memory as well as spatial awareness- the way we perceive the space surrounding our bodies. They advise that failing to limit alcohol could see these issues increase dementia risk.

The study done in the UK compares advise from the NHS (National Health Service) to limit alcohol to a maximum of 14 drinks per week, which is higher than 4 pints (8 units) of alcohol.

Data from over 15,000 people aged 50 and up were evaluated and tracked for two years. Amount of alcohol including quantity and frequency was analyzed and tests were done to measure thinking skills.

Individuals reaching “risky levels” of alcohol consumption (equal to 8 units per week), experienced a bigger decline in short-term memory and spatial awareness. Even small declines in mental deterioration could lead to the diagnosis of dementia.

The study conducted at King’s College in London was spearheaded by Dr. Tony Rao, a psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience in research of alcohol use in older people. He notes that none of the subjects suffered from dementia at the beginning of the research, but those who drank at higher levels were more apt to show cognitive decline, which may eventually lead to dementia.

Heavy or binge drinkers are not the only ones at risk. It’s possible to go over the threshold with drinking two units of alcohol per week- which equals 4 glasses of wine or 4 pints of beer.

Dr. Rao notes this quells the myth that alcohol may be good for the brain. He added: 'Using tests to pick up this cognitive impairment early can protect the brain and prevent further decline into dementia. Dementia may be prevented in individuals found early through these tests who reduce alcohol intake or quit entirely. It could improve public health.

This research provides more sustenance to the advice for people to drink in moderation, per Dr. Rosa Sancho of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Per the NHS, men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week on a regular basis.
This is equivalent to six pints of 4 percent beer, six small glasses of 13.4 percent wine or seven double shots of 40 percent spirits.

Alcohol intake is also known to impact other parts of the body including the risk for hypertension, heart disease, liver disease and cancer. 1

Below are “not so tipsy” tips to reduce alcohol intake:
1. Try dry January. Studies show that forgoing alcohol for one month may reduce future alcohol consumption. 2
2. Limit alcohol consumption to weekends only. Think how much better your sleep will be!
3. Drink a bottle of water between each alcoholic drink. This will reduce alcohol intake and reduce risk of dehydration and hangover.
4. Make mocktails using flavored seltzer water.
5. Keep a “tip jar” for money not spent on wine, beer or spirits. Treat yourself to something special with the money.
6. Celebrate holidays with sparkling cider.
7. Pay attention to peer pressure. Avoid being coerced to drink in social situations.
8. Don’t drink and drive. This is a no brainer.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

1. Rao R, Creese B, Aarsland D, Kalafatis C, Khan Z, Corbett A, Ballard C. Risky drinking and cognitive impairment in community residents aged 50 and over. Aging Ment Health. 2021 Nov 12:1-8. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2021.2000938. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34766529.
2. de Visser RO, Nicholls J. Temporary abstinence during Dry January: predictors of success; impact on well-being and self-efficacy. Psychol Health. 2020 Nov;35(11):1293-1305. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2020.1743840. Epub 2020 Mar 27. PMID: 32216557.

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