Urgent action is needed to prevent Britain heading for a dementia epidemic caused by the nation's binge-drinking culture, experts have warned. Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry links excessive drinking and a loss of brain tissue. Dr Susham Gupta and Dr James Warner said people are drinking almost double what they were in the 1960s and claimed cheaper alcohol could be a cause. They said the problem might only be curbed by introducing tough laws.
Binge-drinking is associated with a higher risk of dementia. While Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of the disease, alcohol is said to account for around a tenth of all cases, while heavy drinking to believed to contribute to almost a quarter. The report writers pointed out the price of alcohol relative to average UK income has halved since the 1960s.
Between the early part of that decade and 2000, alcohol consumption per head was said to have nearly doubled from less than six litres a year to more than 11.5 litres. The pair said that if trends continued, within 10 years, the UK population would be drinking more alcohol than any other country in Europe. They wrote: "Given the neurotoxic effects of alcohol and the inexorable increase in per capita consumption, future generations may see a disproportionate increase in alcohol-related dementia."
They said the association of "moderate drinking" with health benefits, binge-drinking was potentially "highly destructive". At high intake levels, the benefits of alcohol were reversed leading to high blood pressure, raised levels of harmful blood fats, and brain damage. They admitted any "public health initiatives" warning people about the risk could be "unpopular and ineffective" but felt legislation could be an option.
The issue was also discussed in September by psychiatrists at a conference hosted by Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling. Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said that one in three people over 65 die with dementia. She said: "Binge drinkers hitting the town on a Saturday night are becoming a familiar sight, but we don't yet understand how it will affect the numbers of people with dementia." She said previous research had focused on alcoholics who had an increased risk of dementia because they did not eat enough for long time-periods.
She said: "In contrast, binge drinkers drink heavily at certain times but may still eat well and therefore do not have the same type of risk. "As drinking habits change, it is vital we understand more about the relationship between alcohol and this devastating condition."
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