Cognition decline again linked to drinking alcohol above low level

Drinking more than a small amount of alcohol can cause cognitive decline in middle and old age a new study has confirmed.

The decline increases with the amount of alcohol we drink above a low threshold and rises with age. The UK guidelines suggest no more than 14 units (140ml) of alcohol a week.

The new study, however, caused a stir because it found the negative effects begin above 9 units a week, five units below the current guidelines.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, a statistician and communicator at Cambridge University says a graph in the study simply confirms 14 units a week, or 16g a day, is where decline is least (see chart). 

“It’s not as straightforward as looking at the graph,” says Professor Simon Moore, one of the study’s authors, who says its lower threshold comes from the calculation involved in fitting the curve to the data.

The debate was fueled by Sun newspaper coverage of the study which came under a headline saying a pint a day might increase our risk of dementia. It seems to be correct:

A daily pint of 5% lager comes to a total of 16 units of alcohol a week, above both the official low-risk limit as well as the lower one suggested by the new study. ■