Fact or Myth: Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

This is a Myth.

Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol benefits actually reduces your chance of getting Alzheimer’s…but increases your risk of developing alcohol related-dementia.

The Good News

Yes, moderate alcohol benefits consumption does decrease the likelihood of developing certain types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published last year in the journal, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, highlighted a meta-analysis of 143 dementia studies, dating as far back as 1977. Researchers found that moderate drinkers had a 23% less chance of being stricken with dementia than those who abstained from alcohol.

The consensus among researchers was that “there is some evidence to suggest that limited alcohol intake earlier in adult life may be protective against incident dementia later.” alcohol benefits

Geriatrics researchers at the University of Bari in Italy also found that the advancement of dementia was slower in alcohol drinkers than it was in non-drinkers.

The study followed 1445 elderly Italian men diagnosed with no cognitive impairment, and 121 others with a history of mild dementia. Over 3.5 years, those who drank alcohol showed cognitive decline at a rate 85% slower than that of teetotalers.

The popular journal, Age and Ageing, highlighted another study that followed 3000 dementia-free Germans over the age of 75 for 3 years.

Participants who drank 2 to 3 glasses of alcohol a day were 60% less likely to develop dementia. Of the 217 reported dementia cases, 111 of them were Alzheimer’s sufferers. The research indicated that those who drank moderately were 42% less likely to have developed the disease.

Researchers are still trying to determine just how alcohol is able to protect the brain. Some scientists theorize it is the anti-inflammatory properties in alcohol that make it such a powerful brain booster.

Michael Collins, professor in the department of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine, says, “There’s a lot of feeling that brain inflammation is involved in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “If alcohol benefits are increasing molecules that are suppressing inflammation in other tissues, then it probably also does that in the brain.”

Alcohol benefits also increases your HDL – good cholesterol – levels, which in turn increase blood flow to the brain, leading to a more awake, alive and higher-functioning mind and memory.

The Bad News

Excessive alcohol drinkers may be tempted to take this news as support for an unhealthy habit. The key word in all the aforementioned studies is “moderate.”

Alzheimer’s may be the leading cause of dementia, but alcohol follows at a close second. In fact, alcohol dementia – caused by excessive drinking over the years – is the 3rd most common type of brain loss in the elderly. Alcohol strips the body and brain of essential vitamins and minerals, causing irreparable damage to the mind.

Over time, alcohol dementia harms areas of the brain, especially the front of the brain, which is responsible for high level functioning, judgment, decision-making and insight. Our memories suffer, our ability to learn is dramatically diminished, and even our personalities undergo a radical change.

Frequent drinking also increases your risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a brain disorder that results from damage to the nerves, especially those in your brain and spine. Korsakoff Syndrome is associated with malnutrition, particularly vitamin B-1 (thiamine).

Vitamin B-1 deficiency is attributed to habitual alcohol consumption or alcoholism. Symptoms include impaired memory, intellect, and cognitive skills such as problem solving. It is common for patients with Korsakoff syndrome to fabricate stories in order to fill in memory gaps.

Both of these disorders can occur years after you’ve stopped drinking, with symptoms appearing as young as 30 years of age.

What do you do with all this news?

The jury is out as to what type of alcohol benefits are best for preventing dementia, but the majority of votes are for wine. Added bonus: Red wine has also been shown to promote cardiovascular health.

Health practitioners agree that the very best way to eliminate your risk of dementia is to eat healthy and exercise, so remember to drink in moderation and practice wellness daily.