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Wine, Women, and Stroke

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WebMD Health News

Jan. 4, 2001 -- "Wine is as good as life to a man, if it be drunk moderately," says the Bible, and the same apparently goes for women. Drinking up to two glasses of wine per day may protect young women against the most common form of stroke, say researchers from the CDC in Atlanta.

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. It kills approximately 150,000 Americans annually, according to figures from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Md. The most common type is the ischemic stroke, in which blood flow in the brain is interrupted by a blood clot. The resulting damage to brain tissue can lead to paralysis, loss of speech, or mental incapacitation.

Although the risk for stroke increases with age, young people suffer them, too. The CDC estimates that 100,000 American women under the age of 44 have had a stroke. In 1997, the most recent year government statistics are available, around 1,200 women under age 44 were killed by an ischemic stroke.

The CDC research ran in the January issue of Stroke, a journal published by the American Heart Association. It found that of more than 600 women studied, all between 15 and 44 years of age, the ones who were light to moderate wine drinkers -- that is, who drank just one or two glasses of wine per day -- had a 40%-60% lower risk of ischemic stroke than those who didn't drink wine at all.

Beer and liquor drinkers had slightly lower risks for stroke, but the effect was not as dramatic as that seen with wine, the researchers say.

"It looks like moderate intake [of alcohol] is beneficial in the young as ... has been found in the old," says study author and CDC scientist Ann M. Malarcher, PhD, MSPH, in an interview with WebMD. "We also had this finding that wine consumption was particularly protective, although that needs to be confirmed in other studies, because some studies have found that and others haven't."

Although wine -- and perhaps other alcoholic beverages -- may help protect against this type of stroke, Malarcher cautions that women who don't drink now would nevertheless be wise to stay off the bottle.

"I don't think that any responsible practitioner is going to suggest that someone drink, because of the myriad of potentially damaging medical and behavioral effects it can have," agrees Adam K. Myers, PhD, professor of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who commented on the relationship between alcohol and stroke in an interview with WebMD.

But there is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that alcohol in moderation may protect against heart disease and stroke through its ability to boost levels of HDL, the "good cholesterol," and through its effects on blood-clotting systems in the body, Myers tells WebMD. There is evidence from scientific studies that alcohol may be protective, he says, although the evidence for protection against stroke is just not as strong.

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