Single Drinking Binge Can Be Far From Harmless

If you are middle-aged and you consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day, your risk for stroke may be even greater than if you suffer from other well-known risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, according to new research published in the journal Stroke.

Past studies have shown that alcohol affects stroke risk, but this is the first one to pinpoint differences with age.

“We now have a clearer picture about these risk factors, how they change with age and how the influence of drinking alcohol shifts as we get older,” said Pavla Kadlecová, M.Sc., a statistician at St. Anne’s University Hospital’s International Clinical Research Center in the Czech Republic.

For the new study, researchers tracked 11,644 middle-aged Swedish twins for 43 years, and compared the effects of an average of more than two drinks daily (heavy drinking) to less than half a drink daily (light drinking). All twins were under age 60 at the start.

Each participant was categorized as a light, moderate, heavy, or non-drinker based on the questionnaires. The findings showed that nearly 30 percent of all participants had a stroke. Researchers then compared the risk of stroke from alcohol and other health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

The findings revealed the following:

  • heavy drinkers had about a 34 percent higher risk of stroke compared to light drinkers;
  • mid-life heavy drinkers were more likely to have a stroke five years earlier in life irrespective of genetic and early-life factors;
  • heavy drinking was linked to a greater risk for mid-life stroke compared to other well-known risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes;
  • at around age 75, blood pressure and diabetes became greatest risk factors for stroke.

Among identical twins, siblings who suffered a stroke drank more than their siblings who had never had a stroke, suggesting that mid-life drinking raises stroke risks regardless of genetics and early lifestyle. Regular heavy drinking of any kind of alcohol can raise blood pressure and cause heart failure or irregular heartbeats over time, in addition to stroke and other risks.

“For mid-aged adults, avoiding more than two drinks a day could be a way to prevent stroke in later productive age (about 60s),” Kadlecová said.

The study is consistent with the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of two drinks for men (eight ounces of wine) and one drink for women (four ounces) per day.

Source: American Heart Association