Light to moderate alcohol consumption at midlife was not found to reduce risk of stroke, contrary to previous findings that suggested alcohol has a protective effect on stroke occurrence.
The study results, published in Stroke, differ from that of previous research which indicated a J-shape curve, meaning that light to moderate drinking had a protective effect on ischemic stroke. However, the study did confirm the risks associated with moderate to heavy drinking.
Sara B. Jones, PhD, MPH, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues studied 12,433 participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study who were current drinkers or never drank before. Participants, aged 45 to 64 years at baseline, self-reported usual drinks per week of beer, wine, and liquor. One third of participants self-reported abstention from drinking, while 39% reported consuming ≤3 drinks per week, 24% reported consuming four to 17 drinks per week, and 5% reported even heavier drinking. During follow-up (median 22.6 years), 773 ischemic strokes and 81 cases of intracranial hemorrhage occurred.
In ischemic stroke, light to moderate alcohol consumption was not associated with stroke incidence (HR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.79–1.21; 1.06, 0.84–1.34); however heavier drinking was associated with a 31% increased rate of stroke compared to those who abstained from drinking (HR, 1.31; 95% CI, 0.92–1.86). Moderate to heavy drinking, but not light to moderate consumption, was associated with increased incidence of intracranial hemorrhage.
Ultimately, no benefit was observed for light to moderate drinking compared to abstention from alcohol consumption for stroke. Still, the researchers stressed that recommendations for what constitutes a healthy amount of alcohol consumption should be based off of individual circumstances, as there are many factors that can raise an individual’s risk of stroke.