Oh yes: Study shows drinking during middle age may reduce risk of dementia later

All this time, I’ve been blaming President Trump for my day-drinking when I should have been thanking him.

His greatest legacy will be the total eradication of dementia in the U.S. population.

Note the fine print, though. It’s not the case that the more you drink, the less likely you are to lose mental acuity later. (Would that it were.) There’s a sweet spot: Drinking too little or too much increases the risk of dementia later on.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), followed participants who were aged between 35 and 55 when it began in the mid-1980s. Abstinence in midlife was associated with a 45% higher risk of dementia compared with people who consumed between one and 14 units of alcohol per week. Long-term abstainers and those who reported a decrease in alcohol consumption also appeared to have an increased risk…

The team of French and British researchers suggested that part of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers could be attributable to the greater risk of cardiometabolic disease reported in this group…

Commenting on the study, Dr Sara Imarisio, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As this study only looked at people’s drinking in midlife, we don’t know about their drinking habits earlier in adulthood, and it is possible that this may contribute to their later life dementia risk.

Yeah, that’s a li’l wrinkle in the data, huh? Some middle-aged teetotalers probably became teetotalers because they were alcoholics in their youth and spent the rest of their adult lives recovering. Did their abstinence in middle age increase their dementia risk or was it their (possible) youthful indulgence that did it? Even if they weren’t youthful drinkers, it may be that they suffered from other health problems in middle age that forced them to stay away from alcohol and it’s those underlying health issues, not the teetolating, that led to dementia later. There’s no suggestion of causation in the study between abstinence and dementia, as far as I can tell. It’s purely a claim of correlation. And you know what they say about causation and correlation.

Right now you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, just give me the bottom line. How many beers are in 14 ‘units’ of alcohol? Because if it’s one beer per unit, that’s 2-3 pretty decent evenings per week in the name of holding off Alzheimer’s.” Alas, it is not. Fourteen units is six pints of weak beer, seven glasses of wine, or 14 shots of the hard stuff. Evenly distributed over a week, that’s one very mild buzz per sitting if you’re lucky. Unevenly distributed, it’s a pretty fun night — although 14 units in the span of a few hours has its own health drawbacks.

Oh, and just to further dampen your enthusiasm, yes, of course there are studies out there suggesting precisely the opposite conclusion from this one. Aren’t there always?

Relatedly, new data from Gallup:

That was quite a spike for the hard stuff after the 2016 election, huh? A few traditional beer- and wine-drinkers apparently decided that they needed something stiffer to get through the day in 2017. I wonder why. Anyway, back to normal now. One can get used to anything.

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