Safe alcohol limits just got torn up: Here's the new advice

It's no secret that alcohol can increase your risk of having a stroke, but contention exists over whether drinking a moderate amount daily may protect against that risk. Past evidence implicated one or two alcoholic drinks per day as possibly protective against stroke, but new research dashes those claims, using genetic information from tens of thousands of people as its evidence.

The debate

The debate over moderate alcohol intake's potentially protective effect against stroke originates from past research that found a link between the benefit and moderate consumption when compared to non-drinkers. Questions have persisted, however, over whether that slightly lower risk was due to a protective effect from the alcohol or simply because the non-drinkers had other health problems.

In particular, people who entirely abstained from alcohol may have been former drinkers who had been forced to stop due to a health problem. That health problem, in turn, may have been responsible for the slightly greater risk of stroke when compared to people who only drink one or two alcoholic beverages per day.

New evidence

Here to answer that question is a study recently published in The Lancet that looked at common genetic variants in East Asian populations known to reduce alcohol tolerance. Individuals with these genetic variants often consume far lower quantities of alcohol than other people due to an unpleasant flushing reaction they experience after drinking.

Because these genetic variants are random, they can appear in individuals regardless of other factors that may influence the outcome of studies. During their research, scientists looked at genetic data from millions of people in China, likewise assessing their consumption habits, and ultimately found that alcohol does not have any sort of protective measure against stroke risk. There wasn't enough data to make a determination about heart attack risk, however.

What it means for you

The study is bad news for people who thought drinking a glass or two of wine daily may have had a beneficial health effect, at least in regards to stroke.

According to the study, researchers found that moderate and even low alcohol consumption does not provide any protective effects against stroke. In fact, drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol daily increases one's chance of experiencing a stroke; every four extra drinks per day boosts the stroke risk by 35-percent.

Individuals interested in making lifestyle adjustments that may reduce stroke risk should instead consider eliminating alcohol from their diet, or at least transitioning away from daily consumption.

Harvard Health notes that strokes often aren't a surprise in the sense that many factors, only some genetic, increase one's odds of experiencing the potentially fatal issue. A number of lifestyle changes decrease stroke risk, including losing weight, consuming less salt, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and, as the new study underscores, consuming less alcohol.