A new study challenges the idea that a drink or two a day could actually be good for you.
In a study conducted in China, researchers found that moderate drinking slightly raised the risk of stroke and high blood pressure. They weren't able to figure out, though, whether small amounts of alcohol might also increase the chances of a heart attack.
People who have a drink or two a day have long been thought to have a lower risk of stroke and heart problems than nondrinkers. But much of the previous research relied on studies that cannot prove cause and effect.
"The claims that alcohol has some magical, protective fix … has no particularly serious scientific basis," said Richard Peto of the University of Oxford, one of the study's senior authors.
He said the findings, published online in the journal The Lancet, should apply to other populations beyond China and to any alcoholic drinks like beer or wine.
For their research, scientists took genetics into account. They focused on two variants common among East Asians in whom drinking can result in quickly turning red, a fast heart rate, nausea or headaches.
The scientists tracked more than 500,000 people across China over a decade. Overall, the study found alcohol increases the stroke risk by about one-third for every four additional drinks per day.
For people who drink up to two drinks a day, which would qualify as moderate drinking, scientists said they would have an increased stroke risk of about 10 to 15 percent when compared to nondrinkers.
In a journal commentary, the authors called for stricter controls on alcohol, saying its risks have been underestimated.