Smoking and drinking: the major risk factors for Alzheimer's disease

Author:  Shrestha Suvash

Date:  May 2008

Heavy drinking and smoking may hasten the onset of Alzheimer's disease, reports a research that was presented at the American Academy of Neurology 60th anniversary annual meeting in Chicago this April.

"In this study, we found that the combination of heavy drinking and heavy smoking reduced the age of onset of Alzheimer's disease by six to seven years, making these two factors among the most important preventable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease." said study author Ranjan Duara, fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study included 938 people, aged 60 and above who were diagnosed with possible or probable Alzheimer's disease. The researchers investigated three traits in the participants – drinking habit, smoking habit, and the presence of å4 variant of the APOE gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Heavy drinking was defined as more than two drinks a day and heavy smoking as one pack of cigarettes or more per day.

Researchers discovered that seven percent of the participants had a history of heavy drinking, 20 percent of them had a history of heavy smoking and 27 percent of them had APOE å4 gene variant.

Interestingly, they found that people who were heavy drinkers developed Alzheimer's 4.8 years earlier than those who were not heavy drinkers. Similarly, heavy smokers developed the disease 2.3 years sooner than people who were not heavy smokers. People with APOE å4 developed the disease three years sooner than those without the gene variant.

Finally, the study concluded that people with all three risk factors developed the disease 8.5 years earlier than not-at-risk individuals, whose average disease onset is 68.5 years.

Thus, if only we could control drinking and smoking habits, we could reduce the prevalence of the disease by a great amount. I think awareness raising campaigns, ban on the advertisements of cigarettes and beverages and reduction in the market availability of these substances can help a lot to curb the drinking and smoking habits.

Written by Suvash Shrestha

Reviewed by Maria Huang

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.