Q. I am 55 years old, in fairly good health, and recently had my annual physical. There is a history of ischemic stroke in my family. My primary care physician took note of this and suggested that moderate drinking may reduce my stroke risk. However, she did not define “moderate,” and I neglected to ask. What’s a good working definition of moderate drinking?
A. Your doctor’s instincts are in line with current recommendations. The 2014 American Heart Association and American Stroke Association Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke report that light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with a reduced risk of stroke and ischemic stroke, while heavy alcohol intake increases the risk of stroke. The federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, where one drink equivalent is considered 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
To further reduce the risk of stroke, other lifestyle factors are important, too. Being physically active and having a body weight in the healthy range both decrease risk. Paying attention to diet is an additional key, particularly by reducing sodium intake and including plenty of potassium-rich foods such as avocados, spinach, pomegranate juice, and bananas. DASH-style and Mediterranean-style eating patterns are both mentioned in the Stroke Prevention Guidelines as potential ways to reduce risk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describe the two patterns here.
Want to learn more about stroke? Read “Matters of the Heart.”