Alcohol Consumption Linked to Stroke Risk
The list of reasons not to drink grows ever longer. A recent study from Ireland adds to this list by providing new findings connecting alcohol consumption to increased stroke risk.
What the Findings Show
The University of Galway published “Alcohol Intake as a Risk Factor for Acute Stroke” on January 20th, 2023, in the journal Neurology. The researchers compiled information from global datasets to arrive at a clear finding that people who drink alcohol increase their risk for stroke compared to people who don’t drink.
The researchers examined health data for 26,000 people across the globe. One-quarter of those examined drank alcohol regularly; three-quarters did not drink at all but had formerly consumed alcohol.
Simply, the group that did drink was either more likely to have suffered a stroke in the past than the group that did not drink, or they exhibited risk factors for a future stroke.
However, the findings also suggested other factors, like socioeconomic condition, influenced stroked risk. Professor Andrew Smyth, lead researcher and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Galway, highlighted this point in his commentary on the study. “Overall, our findings indicate that high and moderate intake of alcohol was associated with increased odds of stroke… However, the effects of alcohol intake are complex as they are linked with socioeconomic factors such as education and many lifestyle factors including smoking and diet.” Dr. Smyth highlighted how drinking patterns play a role, giving the example that drinking seven beers daily would put one more at risk for a stroke than drinking one beer every day, seven days per week.
Considering the three-quarters of the study group that did not drink, the researchers found that this group had fewer risk factors for stroke and were less likely to have suffered a stroke in the past than the current drinkers. Given that this group contained people who used to drink, it is heartening to find that the high stroke risk associated with alcohol consumption seems to reduce after one quits drinking.
How the Data Breaks Down
The researchers published their statistical data, showing clearly how people who drink put themselves at risk for harmful health crises (like stroke):
- Current drinkers within the study group were linked with a 14% increase in the odds of all strokes and a 50% increase in the odds of intracerebral hemorrhage (stroke due to bleeding).
- Binge drinkers within the study group (people who consume more than five drinks in one day at least once a month) were linked with a 39% increase in all strokes, a 29% increase in ischaemic stroke, and a 76% increase in intracerebral hemorrhage.
- Heavy drinking (more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men) was linked with a 57% increase in stroke.
These risk factors were compared to those within the study group who did not drink at all and experienced average risk factors for stroke.
Alcohol Is a Poison to the Human Body
Increased risk for stroke is only one health impact of alcohol consumption. Other aspects of one’s health negatively influenced by alcohol consumption include:
- The brain. Alcohol consumption affects the brain in other ways, too, beyond stroke risk. Namely, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways. Alcohol can affect how the brain looks and works, changing mood and behavior, impairing cognitive function, and hampering coordination.
- The heart. Drinking alcohol over time, or drinking too much on any one occasion, can damage the heart considerably. Heart conditions connected to alcohol consumption include cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure.
- The liver. Alcohol consumption takes a toll on the liver, as the liver is the organ responsible for filtering poisons (like alcohol) out of the bloodstream. Alcohol consumption can lead to liver inflammations, including steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
- The pancreas. Consuming alcohol over time can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances that may lead to an ailment called pancreatitis, which is a dangerous inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas.
- The immune system. Consuming alcohol can weaken the immune system, making the person’s body more susceptible to disease. People who drink alcohol are more liable to contract illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis than those who do not drink because alcohol slows the body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Critically, people who drink alcohol are also at greater risk for several cancers, like head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. Quoting the National Cancer Institute, “The more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher their risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer. Even those who have no more than one drink per day and people who binge drink (those who consume four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths were alcohol related.” People can reduce their risk for alcohol-related cancer by limiting or eliminating their alcohol consumption.
Abstaining from Alcohol Sets the Stage for a Healthy Life
Alcohol consumption creates risks for countless health issues, stroke being just one of them. The concept of moderate drinking is now outdated, and public health institutions like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should update their health guidelines to reflect that there is no safe or healthy amount of alcohol consumption.
Those who drink alcohol should reconsider doing so, as alcohol poses endless risks for harm but no benefit. And those who drink alcohol and cannot stop must seek help at qualified, residential alcohol treatment centers before they fall prey to any of the above health consequences. If they struggle to get help on their own, their family members and loved ones should help them.
- Neurology. “Alcohol Intake as a Risk Factor for Acute Stroke.” Neurology, 2023. n.neurology.org
- ScienceDaily. “Study identifies alcohol risk factors for acute stroke.” Science Daily, 2022. sciencedaily.com
- NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov
- NCI. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute, 2023. cancer.gov