Alcohol Dosage May Speed or Slow DementiaAs the world ages and medical costs escalate, a very real concern is the future cost of care for people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other types of dementia. Historically, care for these conditions has been linked to significant health care expenditure.

New research looks at risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia and how low to moderate alcohol consumption can serve to protect the brain from deterioration while heavy alcohol can destroy brain function.

A review paper by J.W. Kim in Psychiatry Investigation summarizes the potential ways alcohol may affect cognitive function and the risk of dementia, both adversely and favorably. The variance in outcomes depends on the dose (how much alcohol consumed) and the drinking pattern.

Using longitudinal and brain imaging studies, researchers have determined that excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia in the elderly. But regular low to moderate alcohol intake may protect against cognitive decline and dementia and provide cardiovascular benefits.

Currently there is no proven method to prevent cognitive decline or dementia, although a number of studies have shown a lower risk of such conditions among light to moderate drinkers in comparison with non-drinkers.

Other studies have found that beneficial effects are seen only among certain subgroups of subjects. A recent review of subjects over the age of 65 concluded that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, in comparison with abstinence, was associated with approximately 35-45 percent lower risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

In the current study, the authors state that their intent is to determine if there is an “optimal pattern of drinking” that may protect the elderly against cognitive dysfuntion.

At present, the way by which the moderate intake of wine and other alcoholic beverages reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases is much better defined than the protective or detrimental effect of alcohol on the brain.

Experts believe further research is needed to evaluate the potential role that alcohol may play in reducing the risk of dementia. And, since the bio-pharmacological protective pathway is not well-defined, researchers believe it would be premature to recommend light-to-moderate drinking for reducing the risk of dementia.

“On the other hand, current biomedical data supports the concept that regular, moderate intake of ethanol is not simply less dangerous for cognitive function, but is positively protective. This is the same conclusion reached by epidemiologic studies,” the authors said.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

Elderly couple drinking wine photo by shutterstock.