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Alcohol Abuse Increases Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

There is a long list of why excessive drinking is bad for your health.

But if you need another reason to reduce your alcohol consumption, a new study has found a link between drinking and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia!

It has long been known that carriers of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene have a higher potential of developing Alzheimer’s and related dementia than those without the gene.

The decade-long study of Chinese adults over the age of 60 showed that the benefits of healthy living reduced the risks of developing dementia, even in those genetically susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. From the conclusions drawn by the researchers, “healthy living” included reducing the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The Chinese research team said that memory continuously declines as people age, but evidence from existing studies is insufficient to assess the effect of a healthy lifestyle on memory in later life.

Given the many possible causes of memory decline, they explained that a combination of healthy behaviors might be needed for the best effect.

The researchers analyzed data from 29,000 adults aged at least 60 with an average age of 72 — almost half of which were women –with normal cognitive function.

At the start of the study in 2009, memory function was measured using an Auditory Verbal Learning test (AVLT). Participants were tested for the APOE gene; 20 percent were found to be carriers. Follow-up assessments were conducted in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2019.

A healthy lifestyle score combining six factors – healthy diet, regular exercise, active social contact, cognitive activity such as reading and writing, non-smoking, and never drinking alcohol – was then calculated.

Based on their score, ranging from zero to six, participants were put into favorable (four to six healthy factors), average (two or three), or unfavorable (one or zero) lifestyle groups and into APOE carrier and non-carrier groups.

After taking into account other health, economic and social factors, the researchers found that each individual healthy behavior was associated with a slower-than-average decline in memory over 10 years.

Study lead author Professor Jianping Jia said, “A healthy diet had the strongest effect on slowing memory decline, followed by cognitive activity and then physical exercise.”

Jia added, “Participants with the APOE gene with favorable and average lifestyles also experienced a slower rate of memory decline than those with an unfavorable lifestyle.” 

This suggests that those who know they have the gene should take measures to live a healthy lifestyle, including reducing or eliminating the consumption of alcohol, as doing so could lower their risk of dementia despite having a genetic predisposition. 

Prof Jia of the National Centre for Neurological Disorders in Beijing added, “These results might offer important information for public health initiatives to protect older adults against memory decline.”

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