Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and the risk of stroke among U.S. male physicians

N Engl J Med. 1999 Nov 18;341(21):1557-64. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199911183412101.


Background: Several studies have shown U- or J-shaped relations between alcohol consumption and the risk of stroke. We evaluated the effect of light-to-moderate alcohol intake on the risk of stroke, with separate analyses of ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

Methods: Our analyses were based on a prospective cohort study of 22,071 male physicians, 40 to 84 years old, who were participating in the Physicians' Health Study. At base line, the participants reported that they had no history of stroke, transient ischemic attack, or myocardial infarction and were free of cancer. Alcohol intake, reported by 21,870 participants at base line, ranged from none or almost none to two or more drinks per day.

Results: During an average of 12.2 years of follow-up, 679 strokes were reported. As compared with participants who had less than one drink per week, those who drank more had a reduced overall risk of stroke (relative risk, 0.79; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.66 to 0.94) and a reduced risk of ischemic stroke (relative risk, 0.77; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.63 to 0.94). There was no statistically significant association between alcohol consumption and hemorrhagic stroke. The overall relative risks of stroke for the men who had one drink per week, two to four drinks per week, five or six drinks per week, or one or more drinks per day were 0.78 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.59 to 1.04), 0.75 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.58 to 0.96), 0.83 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.62 to 1.11), and 0.80 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.64 to 0.99), respectively, in an analysis in which we controlled for major risk factors for stroke.

Conclusions: Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption reduced the overall risk of stroke and the risk of ischemic stroke in men. The benefit is apparent with as little as one drink per week. Greater consumption, up to one drink per day, does not increase the observed benefit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking* / epidemiology
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Brain Ischemia / prevention & control
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / etiology*
  • Stroke / prevention & control
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Ethanol