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Dangers of the Bottle

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A new study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health has found that heavy drinkers — men who consume an average of three or more alcoholic beverages daily — are nearly 45% more likely to have an ischemic stroke than nondrinkers.

While light and moderate drinkers appear to be at neither greater risk nor greater advantage than abstainers when it comes to ischemic stroke, their frequency of alcohol consumption may have a modest influence on their risk, the study also found. 

The findings help shed light on a subject that has been the source of some confusion, and they reinforce the importance of drinking patterns, which refers to the number of days per week alcohol is consumed and the amount consumed on drinking days. 

"In this study the participants who were at lowest risk for stroke were the men who consumed one or two drinks on 3 to 4 days of the week," says lead author Kenneth Mukamal, MD, MPH, a general internist at Beth Israel and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

Men whose average alcohol intake was three or more drinks per day had a 42% higher risk of ischemic stroke, particularly embolic stroke, than abstainers, the findings showed. This may be attributable to the association of alcohol with both high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, says Mukamal. 

Although the researchers also found that average intake of lower amounts of alcohol was associated with neither a significantly higher nor lower risk of stroke, the light and moderate drinkers who consumed alcohol 3 to 4 days per week had a modest 32% lower stroke risk than did nondrinkers when drinking frequency was taken into account. 

"Compared with other types of alcohol, red wine was associated with a step-wise lower risk of ischemic stroke," he observes. "This is curious because red wine is not linked to a lower risk of heart disease among this population of men any more than any other type of alcohol, so it's unclear why this would be the case with stroke." 


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