By Kennedy Shelley
We have often assumed excess alcohol consumption causes the loss of memory.
Not just in the short term, but long-term dementia.
But is this really true?
That is the question a group of researchers sought to clarify in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The answer to this question is not really clear.
Take two guys who drink seven beers a week.
One drinks a beer a day and one drinks seven on Saturday night.
Does this affect the body and brain differently?
As you might see, now things get less clear.
There seems to be an association with getting older and a loss of memory. But it’s not universal.
There are known risk factors such as smoking or drug use.
And changing some behavior certainly seems to help preserve brain function.
But getting a better handle on quantity and frequency of alcohol use is an important question.
Many people do not realize there is no real science to answer this question, there is only opinion, of both experts and non-experts.
The so-called “expert” opinion can often be as wrong as lay people’s opinion.
The British Medical Journal did an article that examined expert opinion and evidenced based medicine and unfortunately the opinions of doctors are often wrong. We all have our prejudices and they tend to cloud our judgment.
Maybe the worst example was a young doctor in the 1800’s who discovered that when surgeons wash their hands, their patients had fewer problems.
His name was Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, unfortunately the expert opinion was that doctors were gentlemen and did not need to wash their hands.
Despite the evidence, Semmelweis lost his medical license and was arrested.
While this is an extreme example, it is something to keep in mind when people wearing white coats want to give you their opinion not backed by evidence or clinical experience.
To make matters even tougher to figure out the link between alcohol and dementia was the discovery of the APOE E4 gene which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Earlier studies on alcohol and dementia that showed using alcohol with APOE E4 might increase your chances of dementia.
To help clarify this issue, the researchers looked at the medical information of over 3000 participants with the average age of 72.
The participants told the researchers their alcohol use history. Then the participants began a comprehensive battery of tests. And they kept getting the tests for six months.
They also found out how much social interaction people got, smoking status, body weight and exercise as well as checking for the APOE E4 gene.
Of the participants, 2500 did not have any mental impairment while nearly 500 did.
While there are many variables, the results gave us some evidence-based guidance.
Those without any form of mental cognitive impairment no amount of alcohol consumption increased risk compared to the tea-totalers.
When you looked at those who were already impaired, the highest risk was for those who drank 14 drinks per week, compared to those who drank less than one per week.
The researchers noted, “Daily low-quantity drinking was associated with lower dementia risk than infrequent higher-quantity drinking.”
In other words, heavy binge drinking was shown to be the worst behavior.
But overall, drinking does not seem to be linked to dementia even for people with APOE E4.
There are other issues with drinking alcohol but increasing dementia risk does not seem to be one of them.
This study did not really get into a study of long term chronic alcoholic abuse of this drug or the type of alcohol consumed in terms of quality or source.
Almost everyone agrees this will negatively affect the brain.
But it does show there is a great deal of variability on the effects of alcohol, but it doesn’t seem to cause brain decline.