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HEALTH REPORT - Alcohol and Stroke - 2003-12-16

Broadcast: December 17, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Alcohol is a part of holiday celebrations for many people. Some studies have shown that alcohol may be good for people's hearts. But this holiday season, a newly published study says moderate drinkers may reduce the size of their brain. The study of middle-aged people also disputes findings that moderate alcohol use can protect against stroke.

Johns Hopkins University researchers in Baltimore, Maryland, did the study. They reported their work in Stroke: The Journal of the American Heart Association. They studied almost two-thousand men and women over the age of fifty-five who lived in the American South. The researchers used information collected in a heart study between nineteen-eighty-seven and nineteen-eighty-nine. The people were also asked about their health every three years until nineteen-ninety-five.

Each person had a magnetic resonance imaging test of the head. This MRI test can show changes in the brain that are linked to an increased chance of a stroke. It also measures the amount of liquid that surrounds the brain. The greater the amount of liquid, the smaller the brain.

Each person also provided information about how much alcohol he or she drank each week. Those who drank less than once a week were called “occasional” drinkers. “Low” drinkers had between one and seven alcoholic drinks a week. “Moderate” drinkers had between seven and fourteen. And “heavy” drinkers had twenty-five or more.

The researchers found that brain size became smaller the more people drank. They also found that drinking alcohol did not lower the chance of stroke. Earlier studies linked heavy drinking with reduced brain size and with stroke. But other studies had suggested that moderate drinking could protect against stroke.

Jingzhong Ding led the new study. He notes that the MRI tests were done only once, and the reduction found in brain tissue was small. He also says it is not known how much this reduction affects the abilities of the brain.

What is known is that people who drink too much can die of liver disease and other disorders. Pregnant women who use alcohol may also damage their unborn child. And alcohol is a leading cause of deadly traffic accidents.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.