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For years, the alcohol industry has perpetuated a number of myths to distort scientific facts on the harmful consequences of their products. Research has shown that alcohol carries a wide range of health risks, including speeding up the onset of various conditions. One of the conditions that have recently been linked to alcohol consumption is Alzheimer’s Disease.

What Is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases. Defined as a gradual decline in memory, thinking, behavior, and social skills, this brain disorder can significantly affect one’s ability to function and carry out the simplest task. It is estimated that over 6 million Americans of all ages are affected by Alzheimer’s.

With Alzheimer’s, brain cell connections and the neurons themselves degenerate and die. This can lead to the shrinking of various brain regions, and a build-up of protein deposits. While scientists aren’t fully sure what causes this progressive condition, there are a number of factors that are thought to increase your risk of developing it, including:

  • Age: After the age of 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years
  • Heart Health: Tons of evidence has linked brain health to heart health. The brain is nourished by the vascular system, the richest network of blood vessels, and the heart. It, therefore, makes sense that several cardiovascular risk factors (including hypertension, high LDL [bad] cholesterol, and low HDL [good] cholesterol) are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
  • Smoking: It is known that smoking increases your risk of vascular problems, including strokes and small bleeds in the brain. Additionally, toxins in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and stress to cells. These factors have both been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. A recent review of 37 research studies found that smokers were 30% more likely to develop dementia, and 40% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. 

Alcohol Consumption and Alzheimer’s

Heavy drinking increases your risk of dementia due to subsequent damage to the brain, cardiovascular system, and increased blood pressure. In fact, excessive alcohol consumption increases one’s risk of Alzheimer’s by 300%.

However, according to a recent study, “even modest amounts of alcohol” can increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s. 

The Preclinical Trial

The study was led by Shannon Macauley, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, and Jeffrey Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, through their Alzheimer’s Disease and Translational Alcohol research centers.

Alzheimer's and dementia| Longevity LIVE


The preclinical study aimed to show the link between the consumption of modest amounts of alcohol, and its impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

” (The) findings suggest alcohol might accelerate the pathological cascade of Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages,” says Macauley.

Through their research, they found that alcohol not only increased brain atrophy but also led to an increase in amyloid plaques in the brain.

What is Brain Atrophy?

Also known as cerebral atrophy, this is the loss of nerve cells (neurons) and the connections that help them communicate in the brain’s tissues. This loss of neurons can lead to problems with thinking, memory, and performing everyday tasks. Yes, people may lose some brain cells and brain volume as they get older. However, brain atrophy refers to brain changes that occur more quickly and cause more damage. There are two types of atrophy:

  • Focal Atrophy: Affects cells in certain areas of the brain, resulting in the loss of functions in those specific areas
  • Generalized Atrophy: Affects cells all over the brain

The Link To Alcohol Consumption 

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, meaning that it causes severe damage to the brain, from structure to connectivity. It reduces the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain which is responsible for learning and memory.

Neuroimaging studies have also shown that alcohol consumption is associated with macro and microstructural changes in the brain. This affects the frontal lobe (responsible for voluntary movement, memory, emotions, and impulse control), the diencephalic (responsible for motor coordination, memory, and emotion), and the cerebellar structures. 

Amyloid Plaques

Amyloid is a general term for protein fragments that the body produces normally. These are hard, insoluble accumulations of amyloid beta proteins that clump together between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. These deposits, which are found in gray matter, disrupt cell function. 

Research conducted by the University of Illinois in Chicago found that the genes which are affected by alcohol and inflammation are involved in the clearing of amyloid beta. In a healthy brain, these protein fragments are broken down and eliminated, but when alcohol is consumed, it impacts the microglial cells’ ability to keep the brain clear of amyloid beta proteins. The Wake Forest University study showed that alcohol consumption had increased the number of amyloid plaques.

Blood Sugar Levels

Alcohol consumption has also been shown to affect blood sugar levels by not only increasing insulin secretion, but also by causing damage to internal organs. Alcohol causes inflammation of the pancreas (which results in pancreatitis), and the liver (which results in liver disease). If your liver and pancreas don’t function properly, you are at a high risk of experiencing hypoglycemia.

How Is It Linked to Alzheimer’s?

Recent evidence has shown that chronic hypoglycemia accelerates the progression of Alzheimer’s and cognitive dysfunction. In fact, quantitative analysis showed that those with hypoglycemic episodes have a 44% increased risk of dementia.

More Health Risks Associated With Alcohol

Along with increasing your risk of Alzheimer’s, alcohol carries numerous negative effects, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • Stroke
  • A weakened immune system
  • Hemorrhoids 

Reevaluating Alcohol Consumption 

For ages, we have been encouraged to consume small amounts of alcohol due to the health benefits it may carry. However, studies like this should make you question and reevaluate your alcohol consumption. These beverages come with a long list of health risks. Now, with them having a hand to play in Alzheimer’s, is that drink really worth the risk it carries?

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash


  • Day, S.M., Gironda, S.C., Clarke, C.W., Snipes, J.A., Nicol, N.I., Kamran, H., Vaughan, W., Weiner, J.L. and Macauley, S.L., 2023. Ethanol exposure alters Alzheimer’s-related pathology, behavior, and metabolism in APP/PS1 mice. Neurobiology of Disease, 177, p.105967.
  • Peng, B., Yang, Q., B Joshi, R., Liu, Y., Akbar, M., Song, B.J., Zhou, S. and Wang, X., 2020. Role of alcohol drinking in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(7), p.2316.
Bongane Nxumalo

Bongane Nxumalo

As a recent graduate of Rhodes University, Bongane is skilled in content production and editing for Print Media, Digital Media, and On-Air Content. With an interest in Current Affairs, Entertainment, and Politics, Bongane is able to provide a vast range of content that is relevant, informative, educational, and entertaining.


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