DALLAS, Dec. 4 -- While prior studies suggest that moderate amounts of alcohol consumption may reduce one's risk for having a stroke, a new report says that wine -- not beer or spirits -- may have the most protective effect.
In this month's Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, Danish researchers report on a 16-year study of 13,329 people. Those who said they drank wine on a weekly basis -- about one to six glasses per week -- had a 34 percent lower risk of stroke than those who never or hardly ever drank wine. Those who said they had wine daily had a 32 percent reduction in risk. Those who drank beer or spirits did not have any statistically significant reduction in stroke risk.
"Beer, wine and spirits may have different effects on the risk of cardiovascular disease, indicating that compounds other than ethanol may be of importance," says the study's lead author Thomas Truelsen, M.D., of the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen.
The researchers say that one reason for wine's protective effects may be that it contains flavonoids and tannins -- nutrients that have been shown to have properties that help inhibit the development of atherosclerosis, the plaque obstructions that cause to heart attacks and strokes.
"On the other hand, it has been suggested that the beneficial effect of wine consumption is merely related to drinking patterns," says Truelsen. "Wine may be consumed with meals to a greater extent than beer and spirits; the latter two may be consumed irregularly throughout the day. These differences in 'timing' may be important.
"Whatever the biological mechanism may be, the consistency of the result and the biological plausibility suggest there may be a beneficial effect."
The research, part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study, was conducted from January 1977 through December 1992 and involved 6,067 men and 7,262 women between the ages of 45 and 84. Over the 16-year span, 833 people had strokes. Study participants were asked whether they drank beer, wine or spirits and how frequently they drank - "never/hardly ever," "monthly," "weekly" or "daily." While men drank beer and spirits more often than women, there was no difference between the sexes in regard to amount or frequency of wine intake.
In a simple analysis, people who drank wine had a statistically significant decreased risk of stroke in all four frequency groups compared with those who never or hardly ever drank wine. In contrast, no similar effect from drinking either beer or spirits was found in either of the frequency groups.
In a more detailed analysis -- taking into account other risk factors such as physical inactivity, diabetes, high blood levels of cholesterol and obesity -- the researchers still found a positive benefit for those who drank wine.
In comparison to the 34 percent reduction in risk in people who drank wine on a weekly basis, those who drank beer weekly had a nine percent higher risk of stroke and those who drank spirits weekly had a three percent lower risk of stroke. These results are not statistically significant, according to Truelsen.
The American Heart Association does not recommend that individuals start drinking to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown higher risks of cardiovascular disease associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
Co-authors are Morten Gronbaek, M.D., Ph.D.; Peter Schnohr, M.D.; and Gudrun Boysen, D.M.Sc.
NR 98-4592 (Stroke/Truelsen)
Media advisory: Dr. Truelsen can be reached by phone at 45-33-312367 or 45-33-337793, by fax at 45-33-91-3244 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please do not publish numbers.) q\nmr\jrnls98\december\dec1\truelsen.doc
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