Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to essential tremor

tremorDrinking three or four alcoholic drinks a day can double the risk of developing essential tremor – or ‘the shakes’ – in old age, suggest new findings from a Spanish research group.  In a report published earlier this year, the same researchers found that individuals with essential tremor were four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than people without the shakes.

Essential tremor is a progressive neurological disorder characterised by uncontrollable shaking of the hands or, in some cases, the head, jaw, face, feet or tongue.  An estimated 650,000 people in the UK and five million in the US over the age of 60 are affected by this disorder.

Scientists don’t really know what causes essential tremor.  They do know, however, that people with this disorder have damage in the cerebellum part of their brain, including loss of neurons called Purkinje cells.  Given that alcohol is known to be toxic to the cerebellum, Louis and colleagues investigated whether alcohol consumption had an effect on the development of essential tremor.

This study assessed lifetime alcohol consumption and neurological symptoms in more than 3,000 people aged 65 years or older.  At initial assessment, more than half (1,838 people; 56%) of the participants were found to have had at least one alcoholic drink per day over their lifetime.  During the subsequent 3 years, 76 people developed essential tremor.

Individuals who drank 3-4 alcoholic drinks each day were twice as likely to develop essential tremor than those who drank less.  In fact, just one or two drinks a day increased the risk by 30%.

The authors suggest that ethanol, a known cerebellar toxin, lowers the threshold for developing ET – a disorder involving the cerebellum.  It is also possible that individuals who develop essential tremor use alcohol to self medicate, thus making their shaking worse.

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Louis E et al. (2009) Population-based study of baseline ethanol consumption and risk of incident essential tremor. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 80 (5): 494-497 DOI: 10.1136/jnnp.2008.162701

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26 Comments

  1. I am 235 years old and haven’t had a drink since I was 2. I find this study personally offensive, so I it obviously flawed. And furthermore… if an article requires this much reading, then it is bogus! I personally find it offensive that you would prioritize a “scientific” study over real life experiences…

  2. There is previous research that shows a higher incidence of alcoholism amongst people with ET although one does not cause the other. The conclusion of the Spanish study (“Higher levels of chronic ethanol consumption increased the risk of developing ET”) is absolutely flawed because it goes against the fundamental concept that this tremor is “essential” or of one’s essence and without any other cause. The tremor’s that result from excessive alcohol consumption are not “essential”–they have a known cause: excessive alcohol consumption. I would almost think that this was a spoof put into the medical journal just to see if the students are paying attention, -Alan.

  3. Furthermore before anyone attacks my post I’m not saying that alcohol is THE cause, but I argue that it can be A cause.

  4. I am 25. I drank extremely heavily in high school. first felt tremors in my hand after a night of binge drinking. Kept drinking, tremors get worse the more I binge drink. I have no way of proving that they are related, but I know. After long periods of binge drinking my tremors are permanently worse, and I have begun to experience them in new parts of my body etc. People should take this study seriously. Although I feel like my experience is uncommon, it has been very unfortunate, as I sing and play guitar, both of which are effected by ET.

    -Gary

  5. Haven’t looked at the article but bet I can explain the findings. Alcohol does a good job at relieving the symptoms of ET. ET sufferers are therefore likely to drink more. This is a case of alcohol being a symptom rather than cause. ET has known genetic cause. If someone is looking for real information on ET look at the ET Foundation website as others have mentioned. http://www.essentialtremor.org/

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