On the 6th June 2017 the Telegraph.co.uk reported on an apparent damning new link between alcohol and Alzheimer's disease risk. But is it as clearcut as the article suggests? The study cited is "Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ 2017". It was also reported in the Guardian in a similar way, "Even moderate drinking can damage the brain, claim researchers".
The BMJ paper contradicts several large meta-analysis studies published over the last 20 years. In a study published in 2008, researchers at Imperial College London found that "low to moderate alcohol use is associated with a 38 per cent reduced risk of unspecified incident dementia." and they noted that wine, at an intake of up to half a litre a day, significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's in particular.
In 2009, an Australian group's meta-analysis found that 'compared with non-drinkers, drinkers had a 34 per cent reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and a 47 per cent reduction of any dementia type'. Heavy drinkers didn't benefit, but they were found to be at no greater risk of dementia than non-drinkers.
In 2011, a meta-analysis by U.S. researchers concluded that there is 'a real and beneficial effect of light to moderate drinking that reduces the risk of dementia, cognitive impairment, and cognitive decline in older adults by 20 to 25 per cent'.
In 2001, Harvard University neurologists decided to use MRI scanners to examine the inside of drinkers' and non-drinkers' skulls. They found that 'moderate drinkers' had healthier-looking brains than non-drinkers, with 'a lower prevalence of infarcts [damage from mini-strokes] . . . and white matter abnormalities [defects in the tissue that transmits messages between brain cells]' - two classic precursors of dementia.
Even the Telegraph article states " But others questioned the findings, saying the changes in brain matter appeared to have had little impact on brain function, with only one measure of language fluency showing changes, while heavy drinkers appeared to have greater fluency than others at the start of the study.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said: “In spite of conducting repeated large batteries of tests of cognitive function, a possible relationship with alcohol was only found with one measure of language fluency, and this seems to have been due to a decline in the initially higher scores of drinkers. So the changes in brain matter seem to have had little impact on brain function.”
Naughty reporting from Laura Donnelly and an exaggerated headline at best. A nice example of fake news when it comes to the controversial subject of alcohol and health.
See the Telegraph article in full: