Can Wine Protect You From Having a Stroke?

Alcohol and stroke have a very complex and often unclear relationship. On one hand, alcohol use is well established as one of the causes of stroke, but alcohol, especially wine, has also been linked with stroke prevention. So, can you find any guidelines when it comes to alcohol consumption and your brain health? Yes, it turns out that there is a rule of thumb for the 'right amount' of alcohol.

Couple drinking wine near a window
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Alcohol and Your Brain Health

Stroke is a devastating disease, and there is no simple or effective cure for stroke. This makes stroke prevention especially important.

Dietary modifications have been proven to help prevent stroke. Scientific studies have also confirmed that moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly red wine, may play a role in stroke prevention. A review of studies found that low to moderate red wine consumption appears to reduce the risk of several neurological conditions, including stroke, problems with thinking ability, and macular degeneration (a condition that affects vision).

As it turns out, France is a country with one of the lowest stroke rates in the world, as well as a famous preference for red wine.

How Does Alcohol Work to Prevent Stroke?

Red wine is an alcoholic beverage that has been associated with reduced stroke risk because it has a unique chemical composition. A substance in red wine called resveratrol has been shown to produce chemical changes in the body that can help reduce the risk of stroke.

Resveratrol decreases inflammation. This is important because inflammation contributes to brain injury caused by a stroke. Inflammation generates blood vessel congestion and increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease, heart disease, and hemorrhagic stroke.

Resveratrol also works as an antioxidant, which means that it combats free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals produced before, during, and after stroke. Free radicals are dangerous because they harm nearby cells, damaging the blood vessels in the brain and making them prone to bleeding or blockage. In addition, free radicals can damage brain cells, leading to less overall brainpower, which makes a stroke more devastating if it actually does occur. So, foods that combat free radicals can help protect against stroke and improve overall health.

And, the third chemical action of resveratrol is the promotion of a process called neuroprotection, which means the protection of nerves and their surrounding blood vessels from damage. In the long term, neuroprotection prevents nerves from becoming severely damaged from a stroke and prevents the cerebrovascular disease that leads to a stroke in the first place.

How Much Alcohol Is Considered Moderate?

This differs for every person. Obviously, someone who has a small frame and low body weight cannot safely consume as much alcohol as someone who is taller and weighs more. Similarly, in order to gain the beneficial effects of alcohol, a small person would not need to consume as much as a larger person.

There are also genetic differences in how each individual metabolizes alcohol. You may have noticed that some people feel lightheaded faster after drinking an alcohol-containing beverage, while some people get headaches, and others get drunk more easily. Similarly, each person has a different predisposition for alcoholism and addiction, and it is believed that this is based on genetics. So some individuals are more likely to be able to maintain moderate, controlled alcohol intake, while others have a tendency to overuse and abuse alcohol.

In general, according to the studies that have documented the benefits of red wine, a moderate amount of red wine consumption is considered to be one or two glasses per day.

Should I Start Drinking Red Wine?

The beneficial effects of moderate alcohol use are modest—meaning that they are not dramatic. However, for most people, moderate amounts of red wine are considered a safe and effective tool in stroke prevention. It certainly is not useful to drink wine if it gives you headaches or if you have a family history or personal history of alcohol dependency. If you have liver disease or disease of the pancreas, it is best to avoid alcohol. Moderation is the key when it comes to what you eat and drink.

Red wine is not the only dietary modification that is scientifically linked to stroke prevention. A vegetarian diet and a diet low in salt are also linked to a lower incidence of stroke. Resveratrol can also be found in grapes, cranberries, blueberries, and dark chocolate, so consumption of these foods may also confer benefit.

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  1. O'Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Bajwa A, DiNicolantonio JJ, Lavie CJ. Alcohol and cardiovascular health: The dose makes the poison…or the remedy. Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 Mar;89(3):382-93. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.11.005.

  2. Bastianetto S, Ménard C, Quirion R. Neuroprotective action of resveratrolBiochim Biophys Acta. 2015;1852(6):1195-1201. doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.09.011

  3. Bastianetto S, Ménard C, Quirion R. Neuroprotective action of resveratrol. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015 Jun;1852(6):1195-201. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.09.011.

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