Drinking & Stroke Risk

Let's face it, more than an occasional drink is consumed on Seabrook from time to time - at least at our home. There has been and will continue to be the question of how much is too much when it comes to alcoholic beverage consumption. The State is about to change the legal limit of blood alcohol and the definition of driving under the influence making it easier to be classified as under the influence. There are no studies that I am aware of that relate the blood or breath analyzer alcohol level with risk of heart disease, cancer or stroke the big three concerns we have with regard to healthy aging. However, there are some studies that relate the amount of alcohol consumed per day and the risk (chance) of having a stroke.

Latest Study

An analysis of the world's literature on the question of does drinking influence the incidence of stroke was recently published from Tulane University. The results are instructional. What was examined was the effect of alcohol intake and whether people had the two classifications of total stroke, ischemic or hemorrhagic. All of the studies included a reference group of non-drinkers to determine if alcohol might provide protection against stroke. The effect of gender was also examined.

The Results

Drinking alcohol is related to the incidence of stroke. In general the more alcohol that is consumed on the excessive side the greater the risk for the development of a stroke. This is true of both types of stroke (ischemic and hemorrhagic). However there is a caveat that if little or so called moderate amounts of alcohol are consumed there is some protection against an ischemic stroke. What is moderate consumption? Less than 1 drink per day is associated with protection against an ischemic stroke compared to no drinks per day or more than 2 drinks per day. One to 2 drinks per day protects against ischemic stroke but not hemorrhagic. If one drinks 5 or more drinks per day it is high risk behavior with regard to both types of strokes (and other things as well!). There is evidence that women benefit more than men from moderate alcohol consumption.

Why Is This So?

Alcohol in excess (more than 2 drinks a day) can contribute to hypertension that we all know contributes directly to stroke. Alcohol can cause certain heart problems that also contribute to stroke (atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy for example) There is also evidence that alcohol can inhibit coagulation and this might explain why alcohol tends to directly relate to hemorrhagic stroke (intracerebral hemorrhage, for example). On the other hand, this same coagulation effect seems to protect against ischemic strokes (transient ischemic attacks, for example) when alcohol is taken in moderation. Also alcohol raises the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and this is associated with less stroke risk.

What Do We Still Not Know?

It is still not clear whether one form of alcohol (beer versus wine versus bourbon, etc.) is better or worse. It is also not completely clear whether one drink means one's favorite, cocktail, one glass of wine or one beer or slightly more beer and wine. The equivalency and volume of the alcohol is not fully established. However, it is now quite clear that a little alcohol maybe one drink a day is OK, maybe even good, but this is clearly a case where too much of a good thing is bad! Limit the alcohol to one or two drinks a day to keep the risk of stroke lower.