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Relation between alcohol consumption in midlife and dementia in late life

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3164 (Published 01 August 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3164

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Alcohol or Resveratrol: Which is really helping to prevent dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease has increasingly plagued our ageing population, and the ongoing struggle to discover its pathogenesis or an effective treatment has been difficult. Recent research has shown that drinking moderate amounts of red wine lowers rates of dementia over a mean 23 year follow up period. (1) This interesting piece of research has led to much excitement, with newspapers claiming that experts say ‘drinking red wine every day can help prevent dementia.’ (2)

However, before we get too excited, we must be sure to think about the research a little more deeply. The research showed that red wine, and no other types of alcohol helped to prevent dementia. Other research over the past few years has elucidated the role of resveratrol in helping to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s. This is a naturally derived molecule found in red wine, red grapes, raspberries and blueberries, which is a potent activator of SIRT1; it acts via this receptor to induce neuroprotection and longevity.(3)

Despite the fact that it is likely to be resveratrol rather than ethanol that is having the beneficial effect of preventing Alzheimer’s, most people tend to focus on the fun idea that drinking alcohol might actually be good for you. Whilst there is evidence for drinking red wine in moderation, surely consuming healthier alternatives that also contain resveratrol could be equally beneficial. Perhaps even better, as the encouragement of ‘moderate drinking’ is more likely to tip into ‘excessive drinking’ which then goes on to cause hippocampal atrophy and increase rates of Alzheimer’s.(1)

Whilst the research on the effects of alcohol consumption and progression of Alzheimer’s is exciting and useful, perhaps our focus should now be directed away from alcohol – looking into the effects of consuming more fruits containing resveratrol such as raspberries or red grapes to see if this has a similar effect to moderate consumption of red wine. If this was shown to be true it may be a more healthy way of teaching the public to help prevent Alzheimer’s, rather than encouraging alcohol consumption.

1. Yasar S. Relation between alcohol consumption in midlife and dementia in late life. BMJ [Internet]. British Medical Journal Publishing Group; 2018 Aug 1 [cited 2018 Aug 6];362:k3164. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30068510
2. Drinking wine every day could help prevent Alzheimer’s, experts say | London Evening Standard [Internet]. [cited 2018 Aug 6]. Available from: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/drinking-wine-every-day-could-hel...
3. Sawda C, Moussa C, Turner RS. Resveratrol for Alzheimer’s disease. Ann N Y Acad Sci [Internet]. 2017 Sep [cited 2018 Aug 6];1403(1):142–9. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28815614

Competing interests: No competing interests

08 August 2018
Cameron R Jenkins
Medical Student
Leah Holm-Mercer
Imperial College London