Latest scientific news 13 February 2014

Excessive drinkers may experience a faster cognitive decline

Results from the Whitehall II prospective study showed that men consuming alcoholic beverages excessively (> 36 g/d) experienced a faster cognitive decline compared to moderate drinkers.

The alcohol consumption of more than 7000 men and women with an average age of 56 years was recorded three times in the 10 years before the first cognitive assessment. Two more cognitive tests were performed during the 10 year follow-up. There were no differences in the cognitive decline among abstainers, quitters, and light or moderate drinkers (< 20 g/d) in men. However, men consuming more than 36 g of alcohol/d were more likely to experience a faster cognitive decline in all tests. A weaker evidence of this effect was observed in women consuming more than 19 g/d but only for one of the three cognitive tests. Female abstainers showed a faster cognitive decline compared to light drinkers (up to 9.9 g/d). The authors concluded that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages in midlife is likely to be harmful for cognitive aging in men. However, a moderate intake does not seem to be deleterious for cognitive functioning as already shown in previous studies. The mechanisms involved in this association are complex. Cerebro- and cardiovascular pathways with effects over an extended period of time are thought to be involved. A lower vascular risk is related to moderate intake of alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, abstinence as well as excessive alcohol consumption are associated with a higher risk of vascular diseases, which consequently may increase the risk of cognitive impairment by direct neurotoxic and pro-inflammatory effects.

Sabia S et al, Alcohol consumption and cognitive decline in early old age, Neurology 82, Jan 28, 2014, 1-8.