Should we give up wine? New study links drinking to dementia

Beautiful young woman drinking red wine with friends in cafe, portrait with wine glass near window. Vocation holidays evening concept
Should we be quitting our wine o'clock habit? (Getty Images)

Christmas is coming, and the chink of bottles is almost as loud as the tinkle of sleigh bells. Most households will be getting in a bottle or six of something decent, whether it's to drink with Christmas lunch, help the party go with a swing or simply accompany a fortnight of festive telly.

But while Britain loves wine – red or white, old or new world, we're not fussy – new research suggests that we might want to re-think when it comes to our drinking habits.

Read more: How to cut down on alcohol this Christmas, without missing out

According to a new study, just four small glasses or wine a week — or four pints of beer — increases the risk of developing dementia in later life by half, causing potential problems with 'short-term memory and spatial awareness'.

Four glasses or pints is just eight units, much less than the NHS guidelines which suggest up to 14 units a week is relatively safe. Other studies, however, have found that there is no 'safe' limit of alcohol, and advise avoiding it altogether.

Alcohol consumption — particularly in excess — is know to contribute to the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and liver disease, amongst other health issues.

Close up color image depicting a group of people celebrating with a toast. The people cheers their glasses of beer (pints of beer) together in a gesture of celebration, togetherness and happiness. The people are defocused in the background, while focus is on the glasses of beer in the foreground. Room for copy space.
Your good health! Or maybe not? (Getty Images)

Global dementia cases are predicted almost to triple by 2050, from 57.4 million to 152.8 million, a study by the University of Washington School of Medicine has found, in part due to an ageing population, but lifestyle is also considered to be a significant factor.

Dr Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist who led the new study at King's College London, said: "With a career of more than 20 years devoted to research on alcohol and older people, this is certainly the most groundbreaking study on the relationship between drinking and the risk of dementia.

"None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study but those who drank at risky levels were more likely to show cognitive decline, which is likely to progress to dementia.'

Watch: Nebraska Medicine doc's tips to moderate holiday drinking

The scientists studied more than 15,000 people aged 50 and over and tracked them for two years. Their consumption of alcohol, including quantity and frequency, was assessed and they took tests to measure thinking skills.

Dementia is triggered by plaques, or clumps of protein, called amyloid beta. In a healthy brain, the cells are self-clearing, but alcohol inhibits the brain's efficiency. The plaques can destroy nerve cells and trigger memory loss and confusion. Cell inflammation, caused by toxins including alcohol, means the risk of dementia increases.

Read more: Drinking tonight? Here's how much alcohol is too much - and how to avoid holiday binging

"With alcohol use, this is wholly preventable if the people identified early with these tests cut down or become abstinent. It has the potential to improve public health." Said Dr Rosa Sancho, of Alzheimer's Research UK.

It's bad news for drinkers — but good news for our brains, when staying under eight units a week can cut the risk dramatically. Looks like a sober holiday all round...

Watch: New study suggests morning coffee or tea may lower risk of dementia