Healthy Aging

healthy aging

Alcohol, Women and Stroke

The March issue of the medical journal, Stroke, published by the American Heart Association has an interesting research paper on stroke risk among women as they age.  The paper by Kathryn Rexrode focused on the question of whether there is an alcohol dose response effect on the incidence of stroke.  By dose response, we mean, does the amount of alcohol have an effect on the incidence of stroke.

The study was based on the over 80,000 nurses who have been followed with regard to health status since 1980 when the age of volunteer enrollees was 30 to 45.  The analysis ended in 2006 so the women were about 25 years older.  The heart of the study was based on self-reported abstinence (30%), up to one drink a day (35%), and about 30% in the two to three category and a small number more than that. 

The important finding was that low to moderate drinking of any kind of alcohol proved to decrease the incidence of stroke.  Women who abstained and those who consumed large quantities of alcohol had higher stroke rates than those who drank less than one glass up to two a day.  Thus, it appears that alcohol in moderation does produce important protection against stroke.  There are 2 kinds of stroke, an intracranial hemorrhage (less common) and ischemic (clot in an artery to the brain).  The effect of alcohol consumption had no difference on the type of stroke encountered, meaning it protected against both types of stroke. 

These findings are similar to what has been reported earlier in smaller studies and that hold true for men as well.  What is new is that the investigators were able to show a dose response effect - described as looking like a J.  This means that no alcohol is followed by a down slope in incidence when moderate amounts of alcohol are consumed, followed by a great increase if excessive alcohol is ingested.  The type of alcohol, wine, beer, or distilled spirits were considered included, and all alcohol was considered the same. Alcohol quantities were computed from known concentrations of alcohol in each of the drinks, meaning that a glass of beer had a lower alcohol content (that was computed) than a glass of a mixed drink. 

The study looked at a number of confounding factors like aspirin use, hormone therapy and other variables to see if their use changed the findings and they did not.  So the bottom line is that moderate alcohol consumption reduces by about 20% the incidence of stroke as women age.  For those who like their afternoon cocktail or wine, this is good news.  But stop after the second!

Alcohol Women and Stroke

Podcast: Alcohol - How Does it Affect the Heart and Brain?

Health Information Library: Substance Abuse/Chemical Dependency


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