The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, is putting wine under the microscope to try to identify the possible health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. The latest study in this venture found that young women whose alcohol consumption consists primarily of wine are at a lower risk of having the most common type of stroke than nondrinkers or those whose alcohol consumption primarily consists of beer and spirits.
"We're interested in identifying risk factors in strokes or, in this case, a protective factor. [Alcohol consumption] is a new area for the CDC, and it's something we plan on doing more studies on in the future," said Dr. Ann Malarcher, an epidemiologist at the center and the author of the study. "Young women, in terms of stroke risk, are understudied. One hundred thousand women under the age of 45 have had a stoke, and that's a substantial number."
The study, published in the January edition of Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association, focused on 616 women between the ages of 15 and 44 from the BaltimoreWashington, D.C. area. Of the women, 392 had never had an ischemic stroke (which is caused by a blood clot that prevents oxygen from reaching the brain), while the other 224 had had one within the previous year.
The researchers then examined the women's lifestyles to try to determine if alcohol consumption played a role in reducing the risk of stroke. The women were interviewed to determine their race and their lifetime patterns of drinking and smoking. The researchers also obtained each woman's cholesterol level, height and weight to determine their level of stroke risk.
The women were divided into three categories: those who were never drinkers, those who were formerly drinkers (and stopped drinking more than one year before the study), and current drinkers. The current drinkers were further divided into subgroups according to how much they drank on average: less than 12 grams of alcohol a day, 12 to 24 grams a day, or more than 24 grams a day. They were also asked how much and how often they drank either wine, beer or liquor so that the researchers could determine any effects that the type of alcoholic beverage consumed may have on strokes.
In the study, an average drink is defined as a serving containing 12 grams of alcohol. The researchers defined an average glass of wine as having about 9.6 grams of alcohol, a shot of liquor about 15 grams, and a bottle of beer about 12.8 grams.
"If you consumed up to two glasses (24 grams) a day, you had a 40 to 60 percent lower risk of stroke than never-drinkers," said Malarcher. "This effect was primarily among wine drinkers. Apart from the effects of total alcohol consumption, wine may have additional benefits for stroke due to the presence of antioxidant flavonoids [compounds found in many fruits and vegetables]."
Malarcher explained that most of the women who had never had a stroke or who were less likely to have a second stroke tended to be primarily wine drinkers. She noted that other lifestyle factors associated with wine drinking might have contributed to that lower risk of stroke.
Those who consumed primarily beer and liquor were also more likely to smoke and have higher cholesterol levels -- factors that contribute to stroke risk, she said.
Malarcher warned that the findings of the CDC study are still preliminary and that more research is needed. (The center is hiring another doctor to review the alcohol-related studies they intend to conduct, in order to validate the results.)
"Alcohol can lead to increased stroke risk through increased blood pressure, alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy [when an obstruction damages the heart], and spasm," Malarcher said. "Alcohol use should not be encouraged for those who do not already drink because of the devastating morbidity and mortality associated with heavy use."
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