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Updated January 30, 2015.

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Alcohol and stroke have a very complex and often unclear cause and effect association. On one hand, alcohol has been established as a cause of stroke and on the other hand, alcohol, especially wine, has been reported to help prevent stroke.

Culture and Alcohol


Alcohol has been around since the dawn of time. Troubles with alcohol use have been ever-present in cultures throughout the world. Alcohol has been responsible for addiction, family strife, crime, and disease.

Yet the production and popularity of alcohol has never waned. It has been deemed illegal or irreverent, and it has been used in festive celebrations. Alcohol has also been a central component of various religious traditions. Among some, it is considered a luxury or a status symbol to exhibit. When it is used as a culinary enhancer, alcohol has been found to add a unique flavor to meats and desserts and it can be used to tenderize tough cuts of meat.  

Alcohol and Your Health


There may be some benefit for stoke prevention when it comes to alcohol intake. Because stroke is such a devastating disease, and because there is no simple or effective cure for stroke, dietary modifications that can help to prevent stroke are important. Studies have demonstrated that moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly red wine, can help decrease the incidence of stroke. But, conversely, heavy alcohol use has been associated with increased stroke. 

How Does Alcohol Work to Prevent Stroke?


Red wine is the specific alcoholic beverage that has an association with reduced stroke risk.

A substance in red wine called Resveratrol has been shown to produce some chemical actions that can help reduce the risk of stroke. Resveratrol decreases inflammation. This is important because inflammation contributes to stroke. Inflammation generates blood vessel congestion and increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease, heart disease and hemorrhagic stroke. Resveratrol also works as an antioxidant, which means that it combats free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals produced before, during and after stroke. Free radicals are dangerous because they harm nearby cells. So resources that combat free radicals can help protect against stroke and improve overall health.

How Much Alcohol is Considered Moderate?


This differs for every person. It is intuitive that someone who has a small frame and low body weight cannot safely consume as much alcohol as someone who is heavy. Similarly, in order to gain the beneficial effects of alcohol, a small person would not need to consume as much as a larger person.

There are also genetic differences in how each individual metabolizes alcohol. You may have noticed that some people feel light headed faster after drinking an alcohol-containing beverage, while some people get headaches, and others get drunk more easily. Similarly, each person has a different predisposition for alcoholism and addiction and it is believed that this is based in genetics- so some people are more likely to be able to maintain moderate, controlled alcohol intake, while others have a tendency to overuse and abuse alcohol.

In general, a moderate amount of red wine is normally considered to be 1 or 2 glasses with a meal a few times per week.

Should I Start Drinking Red Wine?


The beneficial effects of moderate alcohol use are modest- meaning that they are not dramatic. However, for most people, moderate amounts of red wine are considered safe and possibly effective in stroke prevention. It certainly is not useful to drink wine if it gives you headaches or if you have a family history or personal history of alcohol dependency. If you have liver disease or disease of the pancreas, it is best to avoid alcohol.

Moderation is the key when it comes to adjusting your food and beverages.

Sources:

Neuroprotective action of resveratrol, Bastianetto S, Ménard C, Quirion R, Biochim Biophys Acta., October 2014

Resveratrol and stroke: from chemistry to medicine, Nabavi SF, Huige L, Daglia M, Nabavi SM, Current Neurovascular Research, November 2014

Co-morbidities and mortality associated with intracranial bleeds and ischaemic stroke, Sangha J, Natalwala A, Mann J, Uppal H, Mummadi SM, Haque A, Aziz A, Potluri R, International Journal of Neuroscience, June 2014

Alcohol and cardiovascular health: the dose makes the poison…or the remedy, O'Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Bajwa A, DiNicolantonio JJ, Lavie CJ, Mayo Clinical Proceedings, March 2014


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