Alcohol Cuts Stroke Risk

"I was trying to apply make-up...and every time I picked something up, it would fall out of my hand...", said Letitia Rosado who is one of a half million Americans who had a stroke last year. She's luckier than some, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, more than 150,000 died.

Dr. Mitchell Elkind from New York Presbyterian Hospital and his colleagues found that moderate amounts of alcohol could cut those statistics dramatically, particularly among the elderly.

"Our study found that drinking up to two drinks per day reduces the risk of stroke by about half." says Dr. Elkind.

And researchers found, it didn't matter if the alcohol was wine, beer, or hard liquor.

"What is reasonable to recommend to our patients is something like a cocktail at night or a glass of wine with dinner," says Dr. Elkind.

This is the first study to look at the effects of alcohol on stroke in men and women, white, black and Hispanic, older and younger. It found that for all groups the benefit was the same. But this and similar studies aren't without controversy.

That's because, while two drinks per day protected against stroke, greater amounts increased the risk by as much as three times and alcohol also can lead to liver disease, accidents and more.

"Beyond two drinks a day, alcohol increases the risk of a whole variety of cancers -- mouth, throat, esophagus, liver. Even at one drink a day, it increases the risk for breast cancer," says Dr. Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society.

Researchers say the good news about alcohol should be mixed with a healthy dose of common sense. People who already drink moderately can continue, but those who don't drink shouldn't start just to protect themselves against stroke.