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5 Jan 2021, 19:00
"Middle aged drinking may reduce dementia risk, new study finds," is the misleading and irresponsible headline in The Daily Telegraph.
The study found that people who do not drink alcohol in middle age are 45% more likely to develop dementia than those who drink within UK recommended limits (no more than 14 units a week). But the same study found that dementia risk also increased for people who drank over the recommended limits.
Researchers used data from an ongoing project that has been following more than 9,000 London civil servants since 1985 when they were aged 35 to 55. Over the years, the researchers have documented their drinking habits, lifestyle and health. A total of 397 have so far developed dementia. Dementia was more likely if people smoked, were obese, had cardiovascular disease or had diabetes.
While it's true that people who did not drink, or who had the occasional glass, were also found to be more likely to develop dementia, we cannot say that alcohol protects against dementia. We do not know how much they drank when they were younger.
These higher-risk people may have stopped drinking because of health worries, or possibly because some had concerns about their alcohol use when they were younger.
Also, it's worth noting that those who did not drink alcohol and did not have cardiovascular disease or diabetes were not at increased risk of dementia.
The known ways you can help reduce your dementia risk include doing regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking if you smoke.
The study was carried out by researchers from the Université Paris-Saclay and Université Paris Diderot, and University College London. It was funded by the US National Institute on Aging, the UK Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.