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Alcohol may reduce risk of death during early-stage Alzheimer's disease

Two to three drinks were shown to lower the risk of death, however research on the beneficial effects of alcohol on cognitive decline and dementia has been inconsistent.
By Stephen Feller   |   Dec. 11, 2015 at 10:18 AM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Daily moderate alcohol consumption was linked to a reduced risk of death in people with early stage Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study conducted in Denmark.

Researchers said one explanation for the findings is the social aspect of drinking, because loneliness has been linked to a higher risk for Alzheimer's and having an active social network has previously been linked to improved quality and length of life.

In addition to the widely debated benefits of moderate drinking on health conditions from heart disease to stroke and slowing brain decline, previous studies have been mixed on the effects of alcohol on dementia and Alzheimer's.

While a study conducted at Wake Forest University in 2009 showed moderate alcohol intake, especially wine, could reduce the risk of dementia by 40 percent, a study conducted by the University of California San Francisco said older women who drank moderately were 60 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment.

The new study, published in the British Medical Journal, reinforced the perceived positive qualities of alcohol, researchers wrote.

"The results of our study point towards a potential, positive association of moderate alcohol consumption on mortality in patients with Alzheimer's disease," researchers wrote in the study, . "However, we cannot solely, on the basis of this study, either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in [these] patients."

The researchers analyzed data on 321 patients with mild Alzheimer's disease collected over 36 months as part of the Danish Alzheimer's Intervention Study, which included questions about daily alcohol consumption obtained from the patients' caregivers.

Of the participants, 71 percent had one alcoholic beverage per day or less, 17 percent had two to three drinks, 4 percent had four or more and 8 percent did not drink at all.

During the 36-month monitoring period, 16.5 percent of the patients died. After considering for gender, age, and other underlying conditions, the researchers said having two to three units of alcohol per day showed a 77 percent lesser risk of death compared to those having one drink or less per day. There also was no difference in death risk between those who never drank alcohol and those who had three or more drinks a day.

The researchers said future studies should focus on the impact of alcohol on cognitive decline and Alzheimer's progress, as well as establishing a "safe level" of alcohol intake for it to remain beneficial.

"Drinking is often a social activity, and factors such as social interaction have previously been shown to benefit people with dementia, so this could well have a part to play in these results," Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society told The Telegraph. "Looking at the effects of alcohol on people living with dementia, rather than as a risk factor for developing the condition, is a new idea.

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