Alcohol consumption in middle age can increase the risk of stroke by as much as 34 percent, according to a new study.
Consumption of large amounts of alcohol by people in middle age was found to increase the risk of stroke by a greater degree than diabetes or hypertension.
The study examined the records of 11,644 subjects in the Swedish Twin Registry. Investigators found a significant difference in stroke risk between those who consumed differing levels of alcohol in middle age.
People who consumed two or more alcoholic beverages each day during midlife had twice the rate of experiencing a stroke between 60 and 75 years old, compared to those who drank half a glass a day.
Strokes also began five years earlier among heavy drinkers than among those who consumed little alcohol.
"Individuals consuming more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day are putting themselves at a significantly increased risk of stroke, particularly in their early old age, when they should still be active and productive," Pavla Kadlecová of St. Anne's Hospital in the Czech Republic said.
Alcohol was found to provide the greatest increase in risk of stroke in patients under 75 years old. For those over that age, diabetes and high blood pressure were the dominant factors. Earlier studies had shown that alcohol consumption can play a role in increasing the risk of stroke. However, this was the first major investigation that examined the effect of age on alcohol consumption.
Records examined in the research included twins born between the years 1886 and 1925. Each subject was labeled as a non-drinker, or light, moderate, or heavy consumer, based on self-reporting conducted during that time. Follow-up research covering 43 years of hospital records found that roughly 30 percent of subjects experienced strokes.
The smallest stroke risk was found among those patients who consumed half an alcoholic drink each day or less. When one twin was a heavy drinker at midlife and the other was not, the study found the sibling who consumed more alcohol was more likely to suffer from strokes.
"For mid-aged adults, avoiding more than two drinks a day could be a way to prevent stroke in later productive age (about 60s)," Kadlecová said.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than one alcoholic drink each year, and men limit themselves to two drinks. Heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to health problems, including hypertension, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest.
Research into the role of excessive alcohol consumption on health risks were published in the journal Stroke.