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Danish Study of Alzheimer's Patients Links 2-3 Drinks/Day with Lower Mortality Risk

 There have been few studies of alcohol consumption among patients already suffering from Alzheimer's disease. But a new study from Denmark followed 321 patients diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's disease for 3 years and compared death rates between light/ occasional drinkers (the base group), abstainers, moderate drinkers (2-3/day) and heavier drinkers. (There were very few heavy drinkers, just 13.) The results showed a "reduced mortality for patients with moderate alcohol consumption." In fact, the moderate drinkers had a 77% lower risk of dying during the 3-year follow-up compared to the light/occasional drinkers. Neither the abstainers nor the heavier drinkers significantly increased or decreased mortality risk. Therefore, "an association that is suggestive of a protective effect between alcohol and mortality was seen only in the group of patients who had 2-3 units per day."

Look at the risk reductions from another angle. If the moderate drinkers are used as the baseline, light/ occasional drinkers were 4.3X more likely to die over the 3-year period than the moderate drinkers, abstainers 3.5X more likely and the heavy drinkers 6.5X more likely. Results were controlled for gender, age, smoking, household status (living alone or with others), education, comorbidity factors and measures of both quality of life and awareness. Possible explanations for the protective effect found among moderate drinkers: 1) "small amounts of alcohol may have a health preserving effect per se as indicated in studies in healthy subjects"; 2) moderate drinkers have a "richer social environment" than others; 3) a bias created if the lighter drinkers were already in a "terminal phase of their life." As in so many cases, these findings are suggestive but limited. The authors suggest a "potential, positive" link between moderate drinking and lower morbidity in Alzheimer's patients. "However," they caution, "we cannot solely on the basis of this study either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in patients with AD." Given the fact that there are currently approximately 35 million people suffering from AD worldwide, according to the authors, and that number will likely increase significantly in coming years, their call for further research should have some urgency. Ref 2

Alcohol Related Brain Damage "Underdiagnosed," Headlines WSJ While the Alzheimer's study received some media coverage, a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal focused on warnings from researchers that "The Effects of Chronic Heavy Drinking on Brain Function are Underdiagnosed." Though the author never really defined problem drinking levels, she offered this "sobering thought for the holidays: chronic heavy drinking can cause insidious damage to the brain, even in people who never seem intoxicated or obviously addicted." Brain damage caused by such drinking "looks like accelerated aging," said one expert and is "often confused with Alzheimer's disease, other forms of dementia or just getting older." While researchers are "reluctant" to define a threshold, the author cited NIAAA's broad guidance that "the probability of serious health issues is low for men who have no more than 14 drinks per week, or 4 on a single day, and women who have no more than 7 drinks a week or 3 on a single day." The same article also cited research linking heavier drinking to "depression, stress and anxiety."

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2015
  • Volume: 32
  • Issue #: 12
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