As part of our new “Ask the Expert” series, we submitted these commonly-asked questions to The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement’s Scientific Advisory Council. Below, Dr. Bruce Miller, MD, Director UCSF Dementia Center, responds.

What is the role of alcohol in Alzheimer’s?

Steady and severe alcohol abuse, associated with liver disease (cirrhosis), is associated with a dementia,

Dr. Bruce Miller, Director of UCSF Dementia Center, provides an expert analysis of this commonly-asked question.

but this dementia is not typically of the Alzheimer type. People who drink heavily can sometimes compound their cognitive issues by suffering from poor nutrition, falls with head trauma, and neglect of personal health. So, heavy alcohol abuse is problematic for cognition, even if it isn’t necessarily linked to Alzheimer’s disease. We see many people who drink who also get Alzheimer’s disease, but, of course, many people who don’t drink get Alzheimer’s disease. The links to AD are tenuous.

How much alcohol is safe?

This is a tough question because safety probably varies from person to person. If someone is drinking enough to have blackouts, seizures, liver disease or other medical complications, this behavior definitely threatens cognitive health and can lead to dementia. Many studies suggest that moderate (2-3 drinks of wine, 2-3 times a week) is safe and may even be protective from neurodegeneration. This is an area that is still under active research, consequently different papers come to different conclusions surrounding moderate alcohol use.

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