A new study of almost 4 million South Koreans found that limiting alcohol consumption to one or two drinks a day can decrease the likelihood of developing dementia. The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, showed that drinking more than two drinks a day increases the risk of dementia. The study’s first author, Dr. Keun Hye Jeon, an assistant professor at CHA Gumi Medical Center in South Korea, commented that “maintaining mild to moderate alcohol consumption as well as reducing alcohol consumption from a heavy to moderate level were associated with a decreased risk of dementia.”
However, experts caution against interpreting the findings too liberally. Dr. Richard Isaacson, an Alzheimer’s researcher and preventive neurologist, warned that alcohol use can pose a risk factor for various health problems, including dementia. He added that drinking is particularly dangerous for those with one or two copies of the APOE4 gene variant, which raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The study analyzed the medical records of individuals covered by the Korean National Health Insurance Service, who receive a free health exam every year starting at age 40. In addition to medical tests, examiners also gathered information on each person’s drinking, smoking, and exercise habits. The study compared data collected in 2009 and 2011 with medical records in 2018 to determine if any of the individuals had been diagnosed with dementia.
After adjusting for demographic factors such as age, sex, smoking, and exercise level, the study found that people who drank one drink a day over time were 21% less likely to develop dementia compared to those who never drank. Those who drank two drinks a day were 17% less likely to develop dementia. However, heavy drinkers (three or more drinks a day) were 8% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. If heavy drinkers reduced their consumption to a moderate level, their risk of Alzheimer’s diagnosis fell by 12% and their risk of all-cause dementia fell by 8%.
Dr. Isaacson pointed out that people are not always accurate in reporting their alcohol consumption, as they may not accurately measure their pours or limit their drinking to weekends. He added that binge drinking is becoming a growing concern worldwide, even among adults.
The study also found that starting to drink at a mild level was associated with a decreased risk of both all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, more research is needed to understand the relationship between alcohol consumption and dementia risk.
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