It also found that moderate drinking - up to two drinks a day - increased the risk of stroke by about 10 to 15 percent, and also slightly raised the risk of high blood pressure, the Associated Press reported.
Because such gene variations occur randomly, the researchers were able to design the equivalent of a randomized study. 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. In over 160,000 of these adults the researchers measured two genetic variants (rs671 and rs1229984) that substantially reduce alcohol intake. The researchers found no protective effects for moderate drinking.
Dr Peter Rice from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said the study "further clarifies" the message that alcohol at any level of consumption does not improve your health and many important health risks increase the more you drink.
Men with the variant had a 50-fold difference in intake than those without it. It had been thought that low levels of alcohol consumption might have a protective effect against stroke, as well as other diseases and conditions. From this evidence, the authors conclude that alcohol increases the risk of having a stroke by about one-third (35%) for every four additional drinks per day (280 g of alcohol a week), with no protective effects of light or moderate drinking. The researchers looked at how many had strokes or heart attacks, and compared them to participants without the variants and to the women with the variants. "I have always been reasonably convinced that moderate alcohol consumption was protective for cardiovascular disease, but now I am having my doubts", he said.
According to the Irish Heart Foundation, 10,000 Irish people suffer a stroke each year, and 2,000 Irish people die from stroke each year. However, these findings about the effects of alcohol in Asia should be applicable worldwide.
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The findings challenge the theory that moderate drinking could provide some health benefits. As a result, the team were able to look at the impact of drinking on the risk of stroke without numerous other issues that can muddy the waters. This study estimates that, among Chinese men, alcohol is a cause of 8% of all strokes from a blood clot in the brain and 16% of all strokes from bleeding into the brain.
"Stroke is a major cause of death and disability", said Professor Liming Li, another coauthor from Peking University.
"The new study doesn't tie down exactly how alcohol works to increase stroke risk but doesn't appear to increase heart attack risk".
"The claims that alcohol has some magical, protective fix. has no particularly serious scientific basis", said Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, one of the study's senior authors.
In a journal commentary, the authors called for stricter controls on alcohol, saying its risks have been underestimated. "The alcohol industry is thriving and should be regulated in a similar way to the tobacco industry".