Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While current research suggests alcohol use disorder is a risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease, the impact alcohol use disorder has on Alzheimer’s disease pathology is an area of continued research.
In a new preclinical study, scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine showed that even modest amounts of alcohol can accelerate brain atrophy, which is the loss of brain cells, and increase the number of amyloid plaques, which are the accumulation of toxic proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re worried that drinking alcohol could raise the risk of dementia as you get older, a large new study from South Korea can provide some insights. That starts with the idea that in general, cutting down on alcohol is a good idea.
“Maintaining mild to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of dementia, whereas heavier drinking increases the risk of dementia,” the study’s first author, Dr. Keun Hye Jeon, told NPR.
One part of the study’s conclusions seems to have surprised many people: It found that while dropping from heavy to moderate alcohol consumption lowered the risk of dementia, so did the “initiation of mild drinking.”
Study sees a complex interaction of alcohol and health
“Those who drink alcohol within the recommended guidelines are not advised to stop on the grounds of reducing the risk of dementia,” Jeon said, “although cutting back on alcohol consumption may bring other health benefits.”
Compared to people who didn’t change their alcohol habits, Jeon and her colleagues found that two groups showed a heightened risk of dementia: drinkers who increased their consumption, and people who quit altogether.
“Quitters from any level of alcohol consumption showed higher risk of all-cause dementia compared with those who sustained the same level of drinking,” according to the research paper.
Much has been made of that aspect of the findings, as people try to parse whether it might represent a true cause and effect — and a possible new data point in their own decisions about drinking. But the researchers warn that the higher dementia risks of people who quit drinking in their study “are suspected to be primarily attributed to the sick quitter effect, which is defined as a person quitting (or reducing) a certain hazardous activity because of health issues.”
In other words, they may have quit drinking because their health worsened, rather than their health worsening because they quit drinking.
So, what can drinkers do to limit their risk of dementia?
People in their 20s and 30s who drink moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol may be more likely to have a stroke as young adults than people who drink low amounts or no alcohol, according to a study published in the November 2, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The risk of stroke increased the more years people reported moderate or heavy drinking.
“The rate of stroke among young adults has been increasing over the last few decades, and stroke in young adults causes death and serious disability,” said study author Eue-Keun Choi, MD, PhD, of Seoul National University in the Republic of Korea. “If we could prevent stroke in young adults by reducing alcohol consumption, that could potentially have a substantial impact on the health of individuals and the overall burden of stroke on society.”
The study looked at records from a Korean national health database for people in their 20s and 30s who had four annual health exams. They were asked about alcohol consumption each year. They were followed for an average of six years.
They were asked the number of days per week they drank alcohol and the number of standard drinks per time. People who drank 105 grams or more per week were considered moderate or heavy drinkers. This is equal to 15 ounces per day, or slightly more than one drink per day. A standard drink in the United States contains about 14 grams of alcohol, which is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Levels of alcohol consumption currently considered safe by some countries are linked with development of heart failure, according to research presented at Heart Failure 2022, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
“This study adds to the body of evidence that a more cautious approach to alcohol consumption is needed,” said study author Dr. Bethany Wong of St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland. “To minimize the risk of alcohol causing harm to the heart, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit your weekly consumption to less than one bottle of wine or less than three-and-a-half 500 ml cans of 4.5% beer.”
Deaths involving alcohol use disorder increased dramatically during the pandemic, according to a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators. The study also found that young adults 25 to 44 years old experienced the steepest upward trend in alcohol use disorder mortality.
In the study, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, investigators used predictive modeling to compare expected—also called projected—alcohol use disorder mortality rates to actual rates. They found that alcohol use disorder-related mortality rates increased among all ages and sexes during the pandemic.
It’s hard to know what to think about the recommendations for alcohol consumption when the narrative around it changes like the wind.
Numerous studies have come out in support of moderate alcohol consumption because of its potential health benefits only to be countered by similar studies arguing that it’s actually more harmful than beneficial, according to Rush University Medical Center.
And it’s not just conflicting research that make decisions about alcohol difficult; other related factors, such as your age, gender and overall health, can further complicate the issue.
So is it OK to have a glass or two of red wine with dinner? Or to enjoy a few beers at the ballgame?
Here, we explain how alcohol affects your body — both positively and negatively — why all alcohol isn’t created equal, and how to make the right choices for your personal health.
Observational research has suggested that light alcohol consumption may provide heart-related health benefits, but in a large study published in JAMA Network Open, alcohol intake at all levels was linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease. The findings, which are published by a team led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, suggest that the supposed benefits of alcohol consumption may actually be attributed to other lifestyle factors that are common among light to moderate drinkers.
The study included 371,463 adults—with an average age of 57 years and an average alcohol consumption of 9.2 drinks per week—who were participants in the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information. Consistent with earlier studies, investigators found that light to moderate drinkers had the lowest heart disease risk, followed by people who abstained from drinking. People who drank heavily had the highest risk. However, the team also found that light to moderate drinkers tended to have healthier lifestyles than abstainers—such as more physical activity and vegetable intake, and less smoking. Taking just a few lifestyle factors into account significantly lowered any benefit associated with alcohol consumption.
People with underweight who drink excessively may be at an even higher risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other causes, according to a new study reported in Science Daily.
Excessive alcohol use is the third most common cause of preventable death in the U.S. and is estimated to cause 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the U.S., according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
While research has long shown a higher risk of death linked to alcoholism for people with overweight, a new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence has found that underweight people who drink excessively may be at an even higher risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other causes.
The study was based on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which has a nationally representative sample of more than 200,000 U.S. adults aged 35-85, interviewed between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2011. The researchers analyzed data on mortality risk among drinkers and non-drinkers using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categories to define “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight” and “obesity.”
Drinking too much alcohol is clearly bad for health, but is drinking a moderate amount beneficial? The jury is out.
Some people feel a drink at the end of a tough day helps them unwind and relax. Others may see a daily glass of red wine as a way to boost heart health. This kind of moderate drinking has been associated in some studies with positive health effects, but cause-and-effect evidence is lacking, and alcohol carries serious risks to health and safety. Understanding the science behind the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption can help us make informed decisions about our drinking.
Red wine is often singled out for potential health benefits. It contains bioactive compounds called polyphenols which have been associated with cardiovascular health. It is important to recognize that all of the potentially beneficial compounds in red wine are also found in other foods and beverages. For example, flavonoids, which account for over 85 percent of the polyphenols in red wine, are common in many vegetables, seeds, nuts, spices, and herbs. Resveratrol, a much-hyped compound being studied for health benefits, is found in grape skins and wine, but also in more than 70 other plant species, including berries, peanuts, and cocoa.
The detrimental effects of excess alcohol intake on heart health are well documented. Drinking a lot over a long time or binge drinking can damage the heart, causing problems including stretching of the heart muscle (cardiomyo-pathy), irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high blood pressure, and stroke. The potential benefits of red wine drinking, particularly in excess, may therefore be outweighed by potential risks, especially since the beneficial compounds in the wine are easily available from other dietary sources.
A single glass of wine can quickly – significantly – raise the drinker’s risk for atrial fibrillation, according to new research by UC San Francisco.
The study provides the first evidence that alcohol consumption substantially increases the chance of the heart rhythm condition occurring within a few hours. The findings might run counter to a prevailing perception that alcohol can be “cardioprotective,” say the authors, suggesting that reducing or avoiding alcohol might help mitigate harmful effects.
“Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk,” said Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCSF.
“Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable,” he said. “Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.”
To paraphrase Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to learn that … “
During the COVID-19 pandemic months of March 2020 to September 2020, U.S. alcohol retail store sales increased compared to usual trends while food services and drinking places sales decreased markedly during the same period, according to a new study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. These results indicate an increase in home drinking in the U.S. The findings are published online in the journal Alcohol.
The researchers used alcohol retail store sales data of beer, wine, and liquor store (BWLS) purchases from January 1992 to September 2020 from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey, which provides sales estimates at retail and food services. Alcohol sales changes in the U.S. throughout the COVID-19 pandemic were used as an indicator of at-home drinking. Calculating variations in monthly sales enabled the authors to show annual differences in monthly BWLS sales between consecutive years from 1992 to 2020.
A new study from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), published in the journal Lancet Oncology, has found an association between alcohol and a substantially higher risk of several forms of cancer, including breast, colon, and oral cancers. Increased risk was evident even among light to moderate drinkers (up to two drinks a day), who represented 1 in 7 of all new cancers in 2020 and more than 100,000 cases worldwide.
In Canada, alcohol use was linked to 7,000 new cases of cancer in 2020, including 24 per cent of breast cancer cases, 20 per cent of colon cancers, 15 per cent of rectal cancers, and 13 per cent of oral and liver cancers.
“All drinking involves risk,” said study co-author Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Senior Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at CAMH. “And with alcohol-related cancers, all levels of consumption are associated with some risk. For example, each standard sized glass of wine per day is associated with a 6 per cent higher risk for developing female breast cancer.”
Moderate alcohol intake — defined as no more than one alcoholic drink for women and two for men per day — has been associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease when compared with individuals who abstain from drinking or partake in excessive drinking, according to a new study being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session. It’s also the first study to show that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may be heart protective, in part, by reducing stress-related brain signals based on a subset of patients who underwent brain imaging.
“We found that stress-related activity in the brain was higher in non-drinkers when compared with people who drank moderately, while people who drank excessively (more than 14 drinks per week) had the highest level of stress-related brain activity,” said Kenechukwu Mezue, MD, a fellow in nuclear cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study’s lead author. “The thought is that moderate amounts of alcohol may have effects on the brain that can help you relax, reduce stress levels and, perhaps through these mechanisms, lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”
While Mezue was quick to caution that these findings should not encourage alcohol use, he said they could open doors to new therapeutics or prescribing stress-relieving activities like exercise or yoga to help minimize stress signals in the brain.
I am not a drinking guy. If I eat out once or twice a week, I might have a glass of beer with dinner, but that is it. I just don’t get anything out of alcohol. I also realize that I am in the minority. For the rest of the world ….
For several decades, government guidelines have recommended that men should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day. Now a panel of health experts is proposing a new guideline that would cut that limit in half.
The recommendation for women—one drink per day—would remain the same.
The new proposal comes from a panel that advises the federal government on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are released every five years by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The new guidelines will be released later this year.
For the record, I have never had a drinking problem. At my worst, I would down a couple of beers at a meal and maybe an after dinner something. So, I don’t want to be giving an excuse to someone who is on the cusp of a drinking problem with this study.
Light to moderate drinking may preserve brain function in older age, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.
The study examined the link between alcohol consumption and changes in cognitive function over time among middle-aged and older adults in the U.S.
“We know there are some older people who believe that drinking a little wine everyday could maintain a good cognitive condition,” said lead author Ruiyuan Zhang, a doctoral student at UGA’s College of Public Health.
A team of National Institutes of Health-funded researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina has found that deactivating a stress-signaling system in a brain area known for motivation and emotion-related behaviors decreases binge drinking. The study, which was published online in February and is to appear in the May issue of Neuropharmacology, pinpoints a particular system in a specific brain region that can be manipulated to reduce harmful binge drinking.
The MUSC team was led by Howard C. Becker, Ph.D., director of the Charleston Alcohol Research Center and professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.
“Binge drinking is one of the most common patterns in which alcohol is consumed,” explained Becker. “It’s a risky behavior, and one consequence of repeated binge drinking is increasing risk for developing an alcohol use disorder.”
Further, according to Becker, those who consistently binge drink, particularly during adolescent and college years, have almost 10 times the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
But how much alcohol must be consumed to qualify a drinking session as a binge?