AsianScientist (Apr. 19, 2019) – Moderate consumption of alcohol may raise blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke in some East Asians, according to research by an international team of scientists. The findings are published in The Lancet.
Although people who have one or two alcoholic drinks a day had previously been observed to have a slightly lower risk of stroke and heart attack than non-drinkers, it was not known whether this was because moderate drinking was slightly protective, or whether it was because non-drinkers had other underlying health problems.
In East Asian populations, there are common genetic variants that greatly reduce alcohol tolerability because they cause an extremely unpleasant flushing reaction after alcohol consumption. Although these genetic variants greatly reduce the amount of alcohol intake, they are unrelated to other lifestyle factors such as smoking. Therefore, such genetic variants can be used to study the causal effects of alcohol intake.
In the present study, scientists led by Dr. Iona Millwood at the University of Oxford, UK, in collaboration with colleagues at Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in China, surveyed over 500,000 men and women in China about their alcohol intake and followed the study participants for ten years. In over 160,000 of these adults, the researchers measured two genetic variants—rs671 and rs1229984—that substantially reduce alcohol intake.
Among men, these genetic variants caused a 50-fold difference in average alcohol intake, from near zero to about four drinks per day. The genetic variants that decreased alcohol intake also decreased blood pressure and stroke risk. From this evidence, the authors concluded that alcohol increases the risk of having a stroke by about 35 percent for every 280 grams of alcohol a week, with no protective effects of light or moderate drinking.
Of the men with genetic measurements, about 10,000 had a stroke and 2,000 had a heart attack during the ten year follow-up period. In addition, the researchers noted that less than two percent of women in the study drank alcohol, and when they did drink, they consumed less alcohol than men. The genetic variants that cause alcohol intolerance had little effect on blood pressure or stroke risk in women.
“Stroke is a major cause of death and disability. This large collaborative study has shown that stroke rates are increased by alcohol. This should help inform personal choices and public health strategies,” said co-author Professor Liming Li of Peking University.
Source: The Lancet; Photo: Pexels.
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