Study challenges health benefits of moderate drinking

For heavy drinkers consuming four or more drinks a day blood pressure rises significantly and the risk of stroke increases by around 35 per cent the study found. — AFP pic

For heavy drinkers consuming four or more drinks a day blood pressure rises significantly and the risk of stroke increases by around 35 per cent the study found. — AFP pic

Dr Kate Holmes, assistant director of research at the Stroke Association said: "This study helps to bust the myth that moderate drinking reduces your risk of having a stroke".

In a study conducted in China, the researchers found that moderate drinking slightly raised the risk of stroke and high blood pressure. It was known that stroke rates were increased by heavy drinking, but it wasn't known whether they were increased or decreased by moderate drinking.

Even light-to-moderate drinking increases blood pressure and the chances of having a stroke, according to a large genetic study in The Lancet, countering previous claims that one or two drinks a day could be protective.

"This study uses a novel genetic approach to try to determine the effect of alcohol consumption on risk of cardiovascular disease", said Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield. That study found that the health risks start off small with one drink a day, but the "rise rapidly" as people drink more.

He added: "This study gets around the problem of accurate recording of consumption by using genetic methodology to estimate people's likelihood, throughout their lifetime, of a particular drinking pattern". There weren't enough heart attacks among the participants to be able to draw a conclusion about heart risks, the researchers said. "The increasing number of people in Scotland who don't drink at all, now about 1 in 5 of the population, are likely to experience benefits to their health from not drinking". They focused on two genetic variants common among East Asians that can make drinking unpleasant.

"This is a very impressive study which shows that men who, by chance, have a combination of genes that put them off drinking alcohol have a lower risk of stroke compared with those without these genes", he said.

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In a journal commentary, the authors called for stricter controls on alcohol, saying its risks have been underestimated.

The authors say this means previous signs of an increased risk of stroke at low alcohol consumption are not down to moderate drinking offering protection, but rather that there are differences between moderate and non-drinkers that muddy the waters - for example people already in poorer health might not drink. "Our genetic analyses have helped us understand the cause-and-effect relationships".

The researchers used data from 160,000 Chinese adults over ten years but claim the findings are relevant to all populations. Among the men in that group, drinking ranged from none to up to four drinks a day.

People who have one or two drinks a day have always been noted to have a lower risk of stroke and heart problems, but scientists were unsure if this was because light drinking protected them.

Professor Zhengming Chen, co-author from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, says: "There are no protective effects of moderate alcohol intake against stroke". It had been thought that low levels of alcohol consumption might have a protective effect against stroke, as well as other diseases and conditions.

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