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Binge drinking increases stroke risk

A study reinforcing the message that moderate drinking has some health benefits has been launched.

A study reinforcing the message that moderate drinking has some health benefits has been launched. This follows the recent warning from the UK's Stroke Association that binge drinkers were increasing their risk of a stroke.

Men who consume three or more alcoholic drinks a day are 42 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke than non-drinkers, says the study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Light drinkers are no more at risk than abstainers of suffering blood clots in the brain, the medical histories of 38,156 US health professionals over 14 years suggest. But the gains - from any quantity of alcohol - in preventing strokes are limited.

Kenneth Mukamal, head of the researchers from Beth Israel Medical Centre and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachussetts, said: "The participants who were at lowest risk for stroke were the men who consumed one or two drinks on three to four days of the week.

"The importance of drinking pattern for stroke risk parallels our previous findings among this same group of men regarding alcohol consumption and the risk of developing diabetes and coronary heart disease.

"Among all three types of disease, the lowest risk seems to occur when consumption is limited to one or, at most, two drinks, approximately every other day, with little benefit shown above three to four drinking days per week."

Dr Mukamal said: "I think there has been a subtle assumption that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of ischaemic stroke [caused by a blood clot blocking an artery serving the brain], similar to the way it is associated with a lower risk of heart attack. But our study did not demonstrate a statistically significant role for alcohol in guarding against a stroke.

"While there does appear to be a small window for which light drinking is associated with lower risk, it's important to note this window is smaller than it is for heart disease and therefore you cannot extrapolate between the two."

The extra risk for the three-or-more-a-day drinkers might be attributable to alcohol's association with high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, he said. Red wine appeared to offer slightly more protection against a stroke than other alcohol, although few men in the study drank it on a daily basis.

Dr Mukamal said it had not been linked to a lower risk of heart disease than other alcohol consumed by the men.

But the levels at which risks escalate - according to Dr Mukamal - appear to suggest that more sobriety among less heavy drinkers is needed.

2nd September 2008

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