Numerous studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption protects against heart attacks, but until now, its relationship with stroke risk was less certain. Previous research has suggested that moderate drinking protects certain groups against ischemic stroke (in which blood to the brain is blocked by a clot), which accounts for about 80 percent of all strokes. Other studies have found no beneficial effect. The earlier findings led to speculation that alcohol's protective effect against strokes may vary according to race or ethnicity.
"Our study provides the first important evidence that moderate alcohol use is associated with a significantly decreased risk of ischemic stroke in a multiethnic, urban, elderly population," stated Dr. Ralph Sacco, associate professor of neurology and public health at Columbia-Presbyterian.
The new study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was published in the Jan. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study examined 677 patients from northern Manhattan with ischemic stroke; they were compared by age, sex and ethnicity with another 1,139 area residents who had never suffered a stroke. The mean age of the population was 70. After adjusting for other stroke-related factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers estimated that moderate drinkers had a 45 percent lower risk of stroke than nondrinkers.
"We found this protective effect no matter what type of alcohol was consumed, whether it was wine, beer or liquor," said Sacco.
Heavy alcohol consumption--seven or more drinks a day--was associated with almost triple the stroke risk of moderate consumption, the study found. And the study authors cautioned that there appeared to be no benefit to recommending alcohol consumption to those who do not drink already. The new findings support the National Stroke Association's existing guidelines, which say moderate drinkers may protect themselves from strokes by continuing to consume alcohol. More research is needed among other groups, such as Asians, who may get no protection or even be at greater risk from drinking.
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