Drinking in Middle Age: Keep It Light

Heavy drinking in middle age may raise stroke risk more than factors like high blood pressure and diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While drinking isn't all bad when it comes to your health, going overboard can be a problem. Too much alcohol in middle age may have some serious health effects.

If you’re middle-aged and drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day, your stroke risk may go up. In fact, a new study found that drinking too much raised stroke risk more than well-known factors like high blood pressure and diabetes did.

This study also found that middle-aged heavy drinkers had a stroke about five years earlier in life than those who don’t drink as much. The earlier stroke happened among heavy drinkers even if they didn’t have a family history of stroke.

Pavla Kadlecová, MSc, a statistician at the St. Anne’s University Hospital International Clinical Research Center in the Czech Republic, led this study.

“We now have a clearer picture about these risk factors, how they change with age and how the influence of drinking alcohol shifts as we get older,” Kadlecová said in a press release.

She continued, “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 and team studied data spanning 43 years on more than 11,000 middle-aged Swedish twins. They compared those who had an average of more than two drinks daily (“heavy drinking”) to those having less than half a drink daily (“light drinking”).

The data showed that, on average, twin siblings who had a stroke drank more than their siblings who didn’t have a stroke. Because it was a study of identical twins, the authors suggested that midlife drinking raised stroke risks, regardless of genetics and early lifestyle choices.

These researchers found that heavy drinkers had about a 34 percent higher risk of stroke than light drinkers. Midlife heavy drinkers (in their 50s and 60s) were likely to have a stroke five years earlier than those who didn't drink heavily in middle age.

Heavy drinking raised the risk of stroke more than other well-known risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. It is usually the result of a clot or plaque buildup in an artery. Strokes keep the brain from getting the oxygen it needs to function.

This study defined drinking levels using the American Heart Association’s advised limit of two drinks a day for men and one for women. That’s about 8 ounces of wine for a man and 4 ounces for a woman.

Kadlecová and team concluded that “alcohol consumption should be considered as a relevant age-dependent risk factor which could have application to studies of younger patients with stroke.”

This study was published Jan. 29 in Stroke.

The European Regional Development Fund funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 29, 2015
Last Updated:
February 2, 2015