Dementia warning: New study links popular UK drink to ‘poorer cognitive performance’

Dementia is a general term for symptoms associated with progressive brain decline. Age is the preeminent risk factor for dementia, which does not augur well for the coming decades, when millions will enter old age. However, ageing may be inevitable but dementia is not. And there are proven ways to modify your risk of brain decline.

A new study published today in the journal PLOS Medicine has linked moderate alcohol consumption – a popular UK pastime – to higher iron levels in the brain, which in turn is linked to poorer thinking skills.

Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.

The new study tied consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week with higher iron levels in the brain.

The study into the link between moderate alcohol consumption and iron accumulation is the largest one to date, with almost 21,000 people enrolled.

READ MORE: Dementia: The type of fish linked to the brain condition – ‘Avoid overconsumption’

Commenting on the findings, Doctor Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our brains are incredibly complex, responsible for our memories, as well as what we think, feel and do. By keeping our brains healthy as we age, we can help stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s which physically attack it, striking at the very essence of who we are.

“While there’s no definitively safe level of alcohol consumption, research into how smaller amounts of alcohol can contribute to poorer brain health is an active research area. In this large study researchers asked volunteers to self-report their alcohol intake, while looking at the levels of iron in volunteers’ bodies, including their brains. This study points to an increased amount of iron as one potential mechanism for poorer brain health related to alcohol consumption, however the study can’t say for sure that this relationship is causal.

“It’s not clear how a build-up of iron affects dementia risk, and Alzheimer’s Research UK is funding research at the University of Oxford to further our understanding of how changes in iron levels track with other brain changes that occur in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“This study didn’t look at dementia, or alcohol as a risk factor for the condition, but there are many good health reasons to keep an eye on how much alcohol you’re drinking. As well as only drinking in moderation, staying physically, mentally and socially active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to keep the brain healthy as we age.”

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