Reports in the press often give conflicting advice about whether drinking alcohol in moderation is good or bad for you. But one thing’s for certain: Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for all types of stroke. (1)

Drinking alcohol raises blood pressure; interferes with the management of diabetes; facilitates weight gain; and affects your heart – all of which increase your risk of stroke. (2) Aside from these facts, here are a few more compelling reasons to reduce the amount you drink:

1. Alcohol is the 7th leading risk factor for death and disability

People all over the world drink alcohol and that makes it one of the biggest contributors to ill health globally. In 2016, alcohol use was the seventh leading risk factor for both deaths and disability, accounting for 2.2% of female and 6.8% of male fatalities worldwide. (3) With stroke currently being one of the most significant causes of death, and exposure to alcohol projected to increase, strokes directly linked to alcohol consumption are also likely to rise. (4)

2. Women that drink heavily may have 203% greater stroke risk than men

We all know that drinking too much is bad for us. But it seems whether you are male or female also correlates with your risk of stroke. One study found that women with a heavy alcohol intake had a 203% greater stroke risk and 17% greater total mortality risk than men. (5) Another report suggests men who drink heavily also have a greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when weakened blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the surrounding brain tissue. (6)

3. More than 21 drinks per week increases stroke risk

Heavy drinking is generally defined as more than 4 drinks per day for men and more than 3 drinks per day for women. (7) When more than 21 alcoholic beverages are consumed per week, the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage is found to be significantly higher for both men and women. (8) This is a life-threatening type of stroke where bleeding happens within the brain tissue itself.

4. Binge drinking increases damage to the arteries by 4.7%

Most guidelines recommend no more than light-to-moderate drinking and avoiding binge drinking, where a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in one day. A recent study showed people who typically have more than 10 drinks in a day, with the aim of getting drunk, had a 4.7% increase in the stiffening of their arteries compared to low alcohol consumers (9). Any weakening or narrowing of the blood vessels can cause blockages which, ultimately, lead to stroke.

5. More than half of deaths are caused by alcohol-related diseases

Lifestyle behaviours that people are able to change, such as smoking, lack of physical exercise and excess alcohol consumption, all increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include stroke. More than half the 3.3 million annual deaths attributable to alcohol use are from NCDs. Which just goes to show the importance of limiting your alcohol intake to reduce the risk of ill health, disability and stroke (10).

References:

1. Meschia JF, Bushnell C, Boden-Albala et al. Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke. A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke, 2014;45:3754-3832

2. https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/f13_alcohol_and_stroke_2_1_web.pdf

3. GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet 2018; published online Aug 23. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2

4. Rehm J, Mathers C, Patra J, Thavorncharoensap M, Teerawattananon Y, Popova S. Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol use disorders. Toronto, ON, CAMH; 2009.

5. LR, English DR, Hopper JL, Powles J, Simpson JA, O’Dea K et al. Alcohol consumption and cardiovascular mortality accounting for possible misclassification of intake: 11-year follow-up of the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study. Addiction. 2007;102:1574–85.

6. Zheng et al. Alcohol intake and associated risk of major cardiovascular outcomes in women compared with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. BMC Public Health. (2015) 15:773

7. Larsson SC et al. Differing association of alcohol consumption with different stroke types: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Med. 2016; 14: 178.

8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Web site. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov. Accessed August 2018

9. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/ucl-sa082418.php

10. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases ref 2

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