We should not imagine drinking alcohol will ward off dementia, with firm evidence that drinking more than a little can have the opposite effect and no reliable evidence a little is any better than none at all.
A study this week reaffirmed accepted medical guidance that nobody should drink alcohol as a dementia remedy, nevertheless headlines—like “Cheers! Big drinkers may live longer”—suggested otherwise. It also found lower dementia rates among low-level drinkers than among non-drinkers.
But the study has a problem common to many in the field, says Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society (pictured): the category of “non-drinkers” may include people who stopped drinking because of poor health.
This means that illnesses, including dementia, may be found more often among people in the “non-drinker” category, but not because they do not drink.
“To further understand how not drinking affects the brain when compared to moderate and excessive drinking, we need more studies that separate out the never-drinkers from people who have given up alcohol,” says Dr Pickett.
“People should not start drinking alcohol as a means to protect against dementia and those who do drink should stay within the guidelines recommended by the NHS.”
The weekly UK NHS guideline maximum is 14 units, around five pints (2.5 litres) of lager. ■