"We found that the men who drink more, especially at the higher levels of alcohol consumption, have a much higher risk of stroke," says Lydia Bazzano, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
The new finding is based on a follow-up study focusing on 64,338 men who had participated in the China National Hypertension Survey, which was conducted in 1991.
"The relationship between alcohol intake and the development of stroke has not been very clear from observational studies done in the past," says Bazzano.
"We wanted to look at this relationship in a really large cohort, which gives us the best power to detect any association. And stroke is the No. 1 killer of men in China, so it was also very interesting to look at it there in particular," she adds.
Since China has a different stroke distribution than some other countries, Bazzano believes that the study applies best to Asian males.
"But because we know something about the way alcohol may be related to the development of stroke, it probably is applicable to just about everyone," she says.
"We know that heavy alcohol consumption can induce hypertension, and hypertension -- high blood pressure -- is the No. 1 risk factor for a stroke of any type," she adds.
At the start of the 1991 survey, which involved approximately 180,000 people from 17 different provinces throughout China, all of the men were more than 40 years old and free of stroke. They provided information about their demographic characteristics, medical history, and lifestyle risk factors that included alcohol consumption.
The researchers followed male subjects of the original study for all incidents of stroke since 1991, and assessed whether there was any relationship between alcohol consumption and stroke.
Bazzano strongly believes that stroke rates in all countries can significantly be reduced with the help of public health education to prevent alcohol abuse, and actions to help alcohol abusers decrease their liquor intake.
The study has been published in the journal Annals of Neurology.