Wine, Salt and Your Heart – Brain Health
ALCOHOL: A BLOOD PRESSURE HAZARD
Many experts call alcohol a widespread but largely unrecognized cause of high blood pressure. Some studies show that excessive drinking makes blood pressure soar, and that cutting back to moderate consumption may help. But new research suggests that drinking no alcohol at all is the best way to lower blood pressure. In one new study directed mostly at African-Americans, researchers found that drinking only one drink of alcohol per day significantly boosted both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
Government researchers who conducted the famous blood-pressure-reducing DASH Diet also concluded that abstaining from alcohol is more apt to lower your blood pressure than drinking moderately.
ALCOHOL: THE HARM AND BENEFIT
Decidedly, drinking too much alcohol for too long can bring on a stroke. Drinking seven or more drinks a day triples your risk of having an ischemic (blood clot) stroke, according to new research by Ralph L. Sacco, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, who studied 677 stroke victims aged forty and older. However, he says heavy drinkers can reverse their higher risk by reducing intake to two drinks a day or quitting drinking entirely. On the other hand, moderate drinkers—up to two drinks per day—had a 45 percent lower risk of blood-clot stroke when compared with nondrinkers.
Other studies show that heavy drinking dramatically raises the risk of a bleeding or hemorrhagic stroke. Further, the amount of alcohol you drink may help determine the size of a stroke. The more you drink, the larger and more damaging the stroke, according to one recent analysis. Binge drinking is particularly risky, sometimes triggering strokes, even in young people.
WINE VS. STROKES
There’s new evidence that people who drink wine appear to have a lower risk of strokes. Danish researcher Thomas Truelsen, M.D., at Copenhagen University Hospital, in a large study of thirteen thousand men and women over a period of sixteen years, found stroke odds 34 percent lower in those who drank one to six glasses of wine a week compared with those who drank wine not at all or infrequently. (About two-thirds of the wine consumed in Denmark is red wine.) Moderate drinkers of spirits had a 3 percent lower stroke risk. People who drank beer once a week or more had a 9 percent greater chance of suffering a stroke. As expected, heavy drinking was harmful. Six drinks a day or more raised stroke risk 50 percent.
Moderate drinking is defined as one or two drinks per day for men and one drink for women and those older than age sixty-five. One drink is: a 12-ounce bottle of beer or a wine cooler; a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces 80-proof distilled spirits.
The issue of alcohol intake and disease prevention is a tricky one for physicians, who do not recommend that anyone take up drinking for his or her health. The physical and emotional damage wrought by alcohol abuse in this country is enormous, and light or moderate drinking is not possible for many people. . . . But because . . . alcohol appears to play a role in preventing [heart disease] and now stroke, physicians advise people who drink small amounts to keep doing what they are doing . . . everything in moderation.”
—Harvard Health Letter, March 1999
Drinking seven or more drinks a day triples your risk of having an ischemic (blood clot) stroke. Former heavy drinkers who restrict drinking to no more than two drinks per day or quit entirely erase the added risk of stroke.
BOTTOM LINE: Drinking in moderation (one drink a day for women, no more than two for men), especially red wine, might help discourage a blood-clot type stroke. Heavy drinking or binge drinking is sure to be detrimental, helping bring on a stroke, especially a bleeding stroke. However, if you do not currently drink alcohol, do not start drinking as an anti-stroke measure. Considering the downside of alcohol, there are many other safer ways to care for your brain and body, that can have a much greater impact in deterring a stroke.
SALT, STROKE, AND BLOOD PRESSURE
Overdosing on salt or sodium can boost blood pressure and stroke risk in many, but not all, people. Some, for genetic reasons, are more “salt sensitive,” meaning their vascular system reacts more vigorously when loaded with salt. If you are overweight, the odds are worse. Tulane University researchers recently found that an increase in sodium of a mere 100 mmol a day doubled the risk of fatal strokes among 2700 overweight men and women.
Japan is a striking case in point. Historically, the Japanese consume extraordinary amounts of sodium, for example in soy sauce and salted fish. They also historically have one of the highest rates of stroke in the world, particularly hemorrhagic or bleeding strokes. High sodium makes blood vessels in the brain more permeable and leaky, say
experts, and vulnerable to ruptures, spilling blood into the brain. A recent nationwide health initiative to lower blood pressure and intake of sodium has led to a decided drop in strokes among the Japanese, for the first time in recent history.
DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL IF YOU:
- Are pregnant or considering pregnancy.
- Have a medical condition that can be worsened by drinking such as an ulcer or liver disease
- Have a personal or family history of alcoholism
- Are taking medication that may interact with alcohol
- Are planning to drive or engage in other activities that require you to be alert
- Are under the legal drinking age.
SOURCE: American Medical Association