Can Wine Protect You From Having a Stroke?

Alcohol and stroke have a complex and confusing relationship. Alcohol use is well established as one of the causes of stroke, but some types—especially wine—have been linked to stroke prevention.

This article will go about what research says about stroke risk and alcohol. You’ll also learn about how to figure out whether it’s safe and potentially beneficial for you to include alcohol in your diet.

Couple drinking wine near a window
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Alcohol and Stroke Prevention

A stroke can have a major effect on your health and change your life. That’s why stroke awareness and stroke prevention are so important.

One area of stroke prevention that has been well researched is diet. Some people choose to include alcohol as part of their lifestyle. Studies have shown that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol—especially red wine—may help prevent a stroke.

Consuming alcohol—even red wine—is not a “silver bullet” for your health. The possible benefits of including alcohol in your diet are not more important than the many other choices and factors that affect your health.

That said, having alcohol in moderation might be one part of a health-promoting lifestyle for you.

A review of studies published in 2015 found that low-to-moderate red wine consumption appeared to reduce a person’s risk for stroke, having problems with thinking (cognition), and developing a condition called macular degeneration that affects vision.

You can see another example by looking at the dietary practices of some cultures and their rate of strokes. For example, France has one of the lowest stroke rates in the world. People living in France are also known for their preference for red wine. However, we can’t say for certain that red wine consumption is responsible for the low str

Why Red Wine?

Some studies have linked red wine to lower stroke risk because of certain chemicals that are found in this type of alcohol.

One key substance in red wine is called resveratrol. It has been shown to cause chemical changes in the body that can help reduce the risk of stroke.

Inflammation

Resveratrol lowers inflammation. This is important because inflammation contributes to the brain injury that is caused by a stroke.

Inflammation can make blood vessels get congested. This, in turn, can increase your risk of cerebrovascular disease, heart disease, and hemorrhagic stroke.

Antioxidants

Resveratrol also combats chemicals called free radicals. Free radicals are produced before, during, and after stroke.

Free radicals are dangerous because they harm cells and damage blood vessels in the brain. The damage makes the vessels more likely to bleed or get blocked.

Free radicals can also damage brain cells. If a person has fewer working brain cells, they will likely feel the effects of a stroke more.

Foods that fight free radicals are said to have antioxidant effects. Including them in your diet can help protect against stroke and improve your overall health.

Neuroprotection

Resveratrol also protects nerves and the blood vessels around them (neuroprotection).

Neuroprotection helps prevent cerebrovascular disease, which may lead to a stroke. It can also help keep the nerves from being badly damaged if someone does have a stroke.

Recap

Chemicals in red wine fight inflammation and free radicals, as well as protect the brain. Since it offers these benefits, including some red wine in your diet might help lower your stroke risk.

Alcohol and Increased Stroke Risk

Some research has shown that alcohol consumption may not help prevent you from having a stroke—it could even make it more likely that you’ll have one.

While some aspects of alcohol may offer health benefits, there are also things about it that can increase your risk of developing health problems.

Drinking alcohol may contribute to your chances of having a stroke because it contributes to stroke risk factors.

Here are a few examples:

  • Weight gain: Some kinds of alcohol are high in calories. If you drink frequently, the extra calories might lead to weight gain. Being at a weight that isn’t healthful for your body type can increase your stroke risk.
  • Diabetes: Alcohol may affect your blood sugar (glucose) levels, which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Having diabetes raises your risk of a stroke.
  • Blood pressure: Drinking alcohol can also affect your blood pressure. If your blood pressure gets too high, it can make your chances of having a stroke higher.
  • Organ damage: Alcohol can also damage your organs—especially if you drink a lot and for a long time. Having a liver, pancreas, heart, or kidneys that are not working well can increase your risk of many health problems, including a stroke.

Recap

Drinking alcohol is also linked to risk factors that increase your chances of having a stroke, such as contributing to obesity, raising your blood pressure, or damaging organs.

Drinking Safely

The “right amount” of alcohol is different for each person. There are many factors that determine how much alcohol is safe and potentially healthful for someone to consume.

How Much Is “Moderate”?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “moderate” alcohol consumption is no more than 2 drinks a day for men or 1 drink a day for women.

However, the amount that is equal to one drink is different based on the type of alcohol. For example:

  • 1 drink of beer = 12 oz
  • 1 drink of malt liquor = 8 oz
  • 1 drink of wine = 5 oz
  • 1 drink of distilled spirits = 1.5 oz

Body Size

Your body size affects how much alcohol you can drink. A person with a small frame and low body weight cannot safely consume as much alcohol as someone who is taller and weighs more.

To gain the benefits of alcohol, a small person would not need to consume as much as a larger person. On the other hand, a smaller person also may not need to consume as much alcohol to experience the risks.

Age

As you get older, many of the changes in your body that can increase your risk of having a stroke can also change how drinking alcohol affects you.

Your body is generally able to metabolize alcohol much better when you’re younger. As you age, you might find that you feel the effects of alcohol much more quickly or after consuming far less than you used to.

Changes in how the body systems are working as you get older also contribute to your risk of having a stroke. This is especially true for your brain. If you’re already having thinking problems as you get older, alcohol can make them worse.

Older people are also more likely to have falls or accidents; if they drink alcohol, these events could happen more often or be more serious. In some cases, it could even lead to a stroke.

For example, if a person falls and hits their head, they may have bleeding in their brain that causes a stroke.

People often need to start taking more prescription medications as they get older; for example, to help with their blood pressure or cholesterol levels. However, can be dangerous to drink alcohol if you are taking certain medications.

Alcohol can also affect how medications work. If you’re taking a medication to help lower your risk of having a stroke but alcohol makes it not work as well, you may not get the protection.

Sex

Alcohol affects men and women differently because of how their bodies are different. For example, the way that fat is arranged in a biological female’s body is different than it is in a biological man’s. These differences can change how the body handles alcohol.

Since there are differences in how alcohol affects men and women, the recommended amount and frequency of alcohol consumption are usually different for them.

For example, the CDC recommends that men and women stay within certain limits when they drink alcohol. On the days that they consume alcohol, women should have 1 drink or less and men should have 2 drinks or less.

Genetics

There are also genetic differences that affect how each person metabolizes alcohol. Sometimes, you may notice these differences based on how alcohol makes you feel or act.

For example, some people get lightheaded or have a headache soon after drinking alcohol. Other people take much longer to feel the effects of an alcoholic drink.

Timing

The potential benefits and risks of alcohol aren’t just based on the type and amount you drink—how often you drink is also important.

You’re less likely to experience the risks of alcohol if you stay within the recommended guidelines for consuming it. However, other ways of using alcohol are riskier.

Alcohol use patterns that carry more risk include:

  • Drinking alcohol often and for a long time
  • Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol regularly
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time (binge drinking)

Other Factors

There are also other factors that affect how alcohol is absorbed and processed by the body, such as:

  • The food and other beverages (like water) you’ve had before and while you are drinking alcohol
  • The strength of the alcoholic beverage you’re having
  • How fast you are consuming alcohol
  • Your personal alcohol tolerance
  • Whether you’re taking medications or have a health condition

Risk of Misuse

The risk of developing alcohol use disorder is different for each person. A person’s risk is somewhat based on their genes, but there are also other factors.

Some people can stick to moderate alcohol intake without a problem. However, people who are likely to misuse substances may not be able to stay within the recommended range.

Recap

There are many factors that determine how your body handles alcohol, including your age, sex, and genetics. Many of these factors also affect your risk of having a stroke.

If you’re not sure whether your alcohol use is safe or healthful, talk to your healthcare provider. They can go over the potential risks and benefits of moderate alcohol consumption with you.

Who Should Not Have Alcohol?

It won’t be useful to drink alcohol for stroke prevention if doing so causes you to have other health concerns. For example, if you feel “hungover” after you drink, any small benefit you may get won’t be worth feeling unwell. It’s also not worth increasing your risk for other health problems.

Even though alcohol may have health benefits, there are some people who need to avoid alcohol.

According to the CDC, you should not drink any alcohol if:

  • You have a family history or a personal history of substance use disorders
  • You have a medical condition that can be made worse by alcohol (e.g., liver or pancreatic disease)
  • You take medications that are not safe to mix with alcohol
  • You are pregnant
  • You are under the legal age for consuming alcohol where you live

Can I Have Alcohol After a Stroke?

While alcohol might offer some benefit in preventing a stroke, you should not drink alcohol if you’ve recently had a stroke. Your brain and body need time to recover and alcohol can get in the way of healing.

If you drank alcohol before you had a stroke, your provider can discuss whether alcohol use is safe for you after you’ve recovered. A stroke changes your brain and your body, so you may not have the same experience with alcohol that you did before.

If you did not drink alcohol before you had a stroke, don’t feel like you need to start to try to prevent another stroke. The CDC says that no one should start drinking alcohol just to get health benefits—and in fact, doing so could do more harm than good.

Recap

Some people cannot drink any amount of alcohol safely. For example, you have health conditions, take medication, or have a history of alcohol use disorders, you should not drink. You also should not use alcohol if you’ve recently had a stroke.

If you do not already have alcohol as part of your lifestyle, it is not recommended that you start just to get the possible health benefits.

Summary

The research evidence on whether consuming alcohol reduces stroke risk is mixed. It also depends on each person’s individual health and lifestyle factors.

Some studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine might have protective effects on brain health. However, there are also risks associated with alcohol use that can increase the risk of a stroke.

A Word From Verywell

The possible benefits of moderate alcohol use are not very big compared to other lifestyle factors and habits that are part of a health-promoting lifestyle.

Still, if you already include alcohol as part of your diet, research has shown that having moderate amounts of red wine can be a safe and effective tool in stroke prevention for most people.

That said, red wine is not the only dietary choice that can help lower your stroke risk. You can also get resveratrol from eating grapes, cranberries, blueberries, and dark chocolate.

There are also other eating patterns that studies have shown can reduce your chances of having a stroke, such as a vegetarian diet or a diet low in salt.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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