Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Increase Health Risks?

By Lindsey Weedston 04/12/19

Researchers explored a possible connection between moderate alcohol consumption and increased stroke risk.

who drinks wine in moderation

A comprehensive study on the health effects of alcohol consumption has produced data that may debunk former research which suggested that a daily drink could reduce one’s risk of stroke.

The study, published last Thursday in The Lancet, used genetics and a sample population of over 500,000 people to answer questions raised by previous results. Recent studies have found that “moderate drinkers” seemed to have a lower risk of stroke and heart attack, but it was unclear if this data was affected by the fact that those who already have health problems tend to avoid alcohol.

This latest study, co-authored by Zhengming Chen of the University of Oxford, got past this obstacle by testing a population of Chinese adults that researchers followed for 10 years. People with Chinese ancestry have a high likelihood of carrying a genetic intolerance to alcohol and are therefore already likely to avoid it.

Chinese women in particular only reported drinking “most weeks” 2% of the time. In this population, consuming four drinks per day increased stroke risk by 35%.

Alcohol is known to increase blood pressure, which can increase the risk of stroke. The results on heart attack risk were described as “less clear-cut,” but the study’s conclusion states that alcohol consumption “appears in this one study to have little net effect on the risk of myocardial infarction.”

“Although alcohol increases blood pressure, we identified no clear net association with acute myocardial infarction, but the number of cases was limited,” the study concludes. “The number of strokes, however, was substantial, and the genetic epidemiological analyses show that alcohol intake uniformly increases blood pressure, ischaemic stroke, and haemorrhagic stroke.”

Alcohol consumption is considered to be one of the top leading causes of death and disability in the world, causing or contributing to 2.8 million deaths each year. However, recent studies on alcohol and health seemed to show that drinking in moderation, especially drinking red wine, had some health benefits. In spite of this, the American Heart Association still recommended against moderate drinking due to the various health risks it poses. They also acknowledge the limitations of studies suggesting heart health benefits from alcohol.

“The linkage reported in many of these studies may be due to other lifestyle factors rather than alcohol,” the AHA website reads. “Such factors may include increased physical activity, and a diet high in fruits and vegetables and lower in saturated fats. No direct comparison trials have been done to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.”

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: