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Mental decline caused by drinking

Heavy drinking has been associated with faster decline in all areas of cognitive function in men.
Heavy drinking has been associated with faster decline in all areas of cognitive function in men.Yahoo Images/file photo

While it is no surprise that people’s mental abilities often decline with age, a 10-year study involving 5,000 British civil servants has found that middle-aged men who are heavy drinkers (consuming the equivalent of two and a half pints of beer a day) showed a “2-year decline in reasoning ability, and memory loss accelerated by 6 years, compared to those who drank in modration or abstained.
In fact, “the heaviest drinkers were found to have the equivalent memory of someone in their early 70s even though they were still in their mid-60s,” reported study author Severine Sabia, of the University College London.

Results for her conclusions were gathered from questionnaires filled out by the volunteer subjects and calculating their average daily intake of alcohol for the decade up to when they were an average of 56 years old (1997-1999) and again in 2007. This included a memory test in which the men were given two minutes to recall a set of 20 two-syllable words. They were also asked to complete a series of reasoning and problem-solving tests.

“Much of the research evidence about drinking and a relationship to memory and executive function is based on older populations. Our study focused on middle-aged participants and suggests that heavy drinking is associated with faster decline in all areas of cognitive function in men,” stated Sabia.

On the other side of the coin, Sabia noted that there was significant decline in mental abilities among women who “completely abstained from alcohol.”

“In women there was only weak evidence that heavy drinking was associated with a faster decline in executive function, but abstinence from alcohol was associated with faster decline in the global cognitive score.”

Note: Previous British studies have also shown that men who drank more than the daily recommended limit of three to four units of alcohol per day were “twice as likely to get cancer of the mouth, neck and throat, while women are 1.2 times as likely to get breast cancer."

In addition, researchers reported that individuals who have more than two drinks a day “develop Alzheimer’s disease five years earlier than those who abstain., while a glass of wine a day has been found to cut the risk of developing dementia.”

Full details of Sabia's report can be found in the journal Neorology