Too Much Alcohol at Midlife Raises Stroke Risk

More than two drinks daily increases risk

Too much alcohol in middle age can increase your stroke risk as much as high blood pressure or diabetes, a new study suggests.

People who average more than two drinks a day have a 34 percent higher risk of stroke compared to those whose daily average amounts to less than half a drink. Researchers also found that people who drink heavily in their 50s and 60s tend to suffer strokes earlier in life than light drinkers or non-imbibers.

According to a WebMD report, the study showed that midlife heavy drinkers—those in their 50s and 60s—were likely to have a stroke five years earlier in life, irrespective of genetic and lifestyle factors. The enhanced stroke risk created by heavy drinking rivals the risk posed by high blood pressure or diabetes, the researchers concluded. By age 75, however, blood pressure and diabetes became better predictors of stroke.

The study involved 11,644 middle-aged Swedish twins who were followed in an attempt to examine the effect of genetics and lifestyle factors on risk of stroke. Researchers analyzed results from a Swedish registry of same-sex twins who answered questionnaires between 1967 and 1970. By 2010, the registry yielded 43 years of follow-up, including hospital records and cause-of-death data.

Almost 30 percent of participants had a stroke. They were categorized as light, moderate, heavy or nondrinkers based on the questionnaires, and researchers compared the risk from alcohol and health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

The researchers found that for heavy drinkers, alcohol produced a high risk of stroke in late middle age, starting at age 50. By comparison, light drinkers' or nondrinkers' stroke risk increased gradually with age.

Among identical twins, siblings who had a stroke drank more than their siblings who hadn't had a stroke, suggesting that midlife drinking raises stroke risks regardless of genetics and early lifestyle, the researchers said.

The findings are consistent with national guidelines that recommend a limit of two drinks a day for men and one for women. That translates to a daily maximum of about 8 ounces of wine for a man and 4 ounces for a woman. People who imbibe should consider cutting back their intake if they are having two or more drinks a day on average.


Photo: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc