January 16, 2014
Heavy Drinking Linked To Premature Memory Decline
[ Watch the Video: Booze Really Does Kill Brain Cells ]
Middle-aged men who consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day may want to consider reducing how much beer, wine or spirits they drink, as a new study in the journal Neurology has found they are at risk for a premature decline in memory function. The study team did not see any significant premature cognitive decline for men who do not drink, ex- drinkers and light or moderate drinkers.
"Much of the research evidence about drinking and a relationship to memory and executive function is based on older populations," said study author Séverine Sabia, an epidemiologist at University College London. "Our study focused on middle-aged participants and suggests that heavy drinking is associated with faster decline in all areas of cognitive function in men."
In the study, researchers looked at data from more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women who were aged 45 to 69 when their participation began. Volunteers’ drinking habits were analyzed three times over a ten-year span. They were also asked to take tests on memory and executive function, which includes reasoning, task flexibility and problem-solving ability.
The study team discovered that heavy drinking men began to experience memory failures and cognitive decline between 18 months and six years earlier than the other participants. The researchers said they were unable to include enough women in the study to determine whether heavy drinking had the same effect on them.
"These latest results could serve as one more reason to stick to any new year's resolutions to cut back on alcohol,” Simon Ridley, head of research at the dementia research charity Alzheimer's Research UK told The Guardian. “Observational studies such as this can be important for identifying factors that may influence the risk of memory decline or disease, but it's difficult to pinpoint cause and effect with this type of research.”
"The people in this study did not have dementia but memory decline can be a precursor to dementia and understanding the risk factors for this decline could be important for preventing the condition,” Ridley said. "It's crucial to continue investing in research if we are to understand how to keep our brains healthy as we age and prevent the diseases that cause dementia.
"In the meantime, the best evidence suggests that in addition to not drinking to excess we can lower the risk of dementia by eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping an eye on our blood pressure and weight, and taking regular exercise,” he suggested.
Another study published this week by Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that bartenders in UK clubs and pubs are routinely flouting laws intended to prevent further sales of alcohol to those who are already drunk. Preventing sales of alcohol to those who are already very drunk would ease the strain on public services and protect long term health, and should be a public health priority, according to the study’s authors.
The researchers based their conclusions on the results of a ‘sting’ in which student actors attempted to buy alcohol while pretending to be drunk in 73 randomly selected pubs, clubs and bars in one city in northwestern England. Four out of five attempts were successful and service rates were always high, irrespective of the day or time.