Teetotallers, like big drinkers, more prone to dementia

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People who drank more than 14 units per week saw their dementia risk increase 17% per additional seven units per week. Moderate alcohol drinkers, meanwhile, have been known to have reduced cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which may protect them from dementia.

Abstinence from alcohol in middle age has been linked to a heightened risk of dementia, a new study suggests. Alcohol consumption trajectories between 1985 and 2004 were also used to examine the association of long-term alcohol consumption and risk of dementia from midlife to early old age.

The study involved more than nine thousand people aged 35-55 years. Abstinence in midlife was associated with a 45% higher risk of dementia compared with people who consumed between one and 14 units of alcohol per week.

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

Guidance from the United Kingdom chief medical officer states that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week - the equivalent of around six pints of beer.

But the startling results are robust, and should prompt government-funded trials to assess "the possible protective effect of light-to-moderate alcohol use on risk of dementia", commented Sevil Yasar, an associate professor at the John Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

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The long-term study - which tracked the health of civil servants working in London - found that both groups of people who drank over the recommended limits and also those who have abstained from alcohol entirely were at an increased risk of contracting the disease.

The team of French and British researchers suggested that part of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers could be attributable to the greater risk of cardiometabolic disease reported in this group.

Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Reearch UK, said that the study failed to take into account the persons drinking habits earlier in life.

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

Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer's Society, said: 'While this study does throw up questions about alcohol and dementia, there could be other risk factors at play. But there are risks of developing other illnesses due to the consumption of alcohol.

This study is important since it fills gaps in knowledge, "but we should remain cautious and not change current recommendations on alcohol use based exclusively on epidemiological studies", says Sevil Yasar at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in a linked editorial.