A new disturbing review of previous research on alcohol consumption suggests that excessive drinking, to the point of blacking out, almost doubles the risk of developing dementia later in life.
Research led by a team at University College London revisited seven previous studies conducted in the UK, France, Sweden, and Finland which examined the drinking history of over 130,000 people.
Over 96, 000 of these participants reported losing consciousness due to alcohol consumption at least once in their lives, 10,000 of whom saying they had blacked out in the previous 12 months.
Excessive alcohol consumption is a well known risk factor for dementia but the extent of the threat and the exact mechanism by which it can, if at all, lead to neurodegenerative disorders in later life has yet to be fully understood.
Furthermore, existing research examines average alcohol consumption levels over time with little, if any, consideration given to the underlying drinking patterns themselves, including binge drinking.
“Consumption of high quantities of alcohol in a short time can lead to neurotoxic blood levels of alcohol, although such episodes are not fully reflected in average consumption levels,” the researchers explain.
Excessive drinking episodes often lead to acute central nervous system effects including but not limited to blackouts or the loss of consciousness.
When the researchers followed up with the participants of the original studies, they noticed a disturbing trend: drinking to excess to the point of blacking out was associated with double the risk of developing dementia regardless of overall alcohol consumption.
“Those who reported having lost consciousness during the past 12 months had twice the risk of dementia [compared to]moderate drinkers who had not lost consciousness.”
The elevated risk applied to all types of dementia, from all-cause, early-onset, late-onset and Alzheimer’s, across male and female participants of all ages.
Heavy drinkers, defined as those who consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week, were about 1.2 times more likely to develop dementia later in life than moderate drinkers.
However, the researchers were quick to point out that while there is a strong correlation, they are not implying a direct causal link between drinking to the point of blackout and guaranteed development of dementia in later life, merely a higher associated risk of doing so.
They do, however, highlight a possible area worthy of more research to provide or discount a biological, causal link.
“Ethanol is neurotoxic, crosses the blood-brain barrier to reach neurons directly, and, in high concentrations and with its metabolite acetaldehyde, can initiate pathologic processes leading to brain damage,” the authors write.
This alcohol-induced brain damage and associated biochemical processes may prove to be the link between alcohol abuse and neurodegenerative disorders but far more research is needed over a long period of time to concretely establish this.
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