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Alcohol Not A Direct Cause Of Cognitive Impairment

Last updated July 4, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

A current study published in the same journal Neurology suggests that older men who consume alcohol are not more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment later in life.


Previous studies have shown that middle-aged men who drink a little more than two and a half United States standard drinks, are more likely to experience faster decline in all cognitive areas, the brain’s processing speed and efficiency, during a period of 10 years.

A current study published in the same journal Neurology suggests that older men who consume alcohol are not more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment later in life. The University of Western Australia’s Center for Health and Ageing found that alcohol itself isn’t the cause of cognitive impairment. 

Lead author Winthrop Professor Osvaldo Almeida and the researchers used a study design known as Mendelian randomization to analyze the genetic data from more than 3,500 men between the ages of 65 and 83 years. Mendelian randomization incorporates genetic information into traditional epidemiologic methods.

Each of the participants were asked about their alcohol consumption habits over the past year. Based on their responses the participants were put into three categories: abstainers, occasional drinkers and regular drinkers. Consuming more than 35 standard drinks per week was classified as alcohol abuse. After their degree of “cognitive impairment” was measured six years later.

Professor Almeida said that if heavy alcohol use is a direct cause of cognitive impairment, then people with the genetic variant that makes them avoid alcohol should have a lower risk of cognitive impairment later in life. That was not the case.

The study showed that alcohol consumption, including heavy regular drinking and abuse, was not a direct cause of cognitive impairment in later life. Poor nutrition, head injuries and other indirect causes were more likely to be responsible for the association between alcohol abuse and cognitive impairment.

The authors write, “Our results are consistent with the possibility, but do not prove, that regular moderate drinking decreases the risk of cognitive impairment in older men.”

The purpose of this study was to test the theory, if is an actual link between excessive alcohol use and cognitive impairment by examining a gene known to be responsible for how successful a person is able to metabolize alcohol – the person’s degree of tolerance for alcohol.

Additional Resource:

Alcohol consumption and cognitive impairment in older men: A mendelian randomization study

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Feb. 22, 2014
Last updated: July 4, 2015