Heavy drinking could take five years off of your life, according to a study linking excess alcohol consumption to increased risk for stroke—the second leading cause of death worldwide.
Published in the journal Stroke, this study analyzed data from the Swedish Twin Registry, which tracked the health of more than 11,600 twins born in Sweden between 1886 and 1925. As the largest twin registry in the world, this database was created to analyze how lifestyle choices like diet, smoking and drinking impact health outcomes.
After following participants for 43 years, researchers compared data regarding alcohol consumption and stroke risk. Among the 11,644 subjects included in the study, 29% of participants suffered stroke during follow-up. After analysis, investigators found that adults consuming more than two drinks a day had 34% greater risk of stroke compared to light drinkers who consumed less than half a drink a day. Perhaps most interesting, when comparing identical twins who had opposite drinking habits, twins with heavy alcohol consumption lived five years fewer than their non-drinking twin. Researchers also estimate that heavy drinking played a larger role in stroke risk than traditional cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes up until age 75.
Although there’s no question that too much alcohol is bad for heart health, findings confirm the fact that heavy alcohol consumption plays a major role in stroke risk, especially during middle age. Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure and even obesity. Experts recommend that if you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. In fact, moderate drinking—often defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men—may have a protective effect against stroke and heart disease. However, it’s important not to exceed these limits, and experts caution against starting drinking if you don’t already drink alcohol.