Suicide More Likely After Handgun Purchase

Suicide was the leading cause of death among gun buyers in the first year after the weapon was purchased, accounting for 25 percent of all deaths, researchers reported yesterday.

Garen J. Wintemute and colleagues at the University of California at Davis found that buying a handgun is associated with an increased risk of suicide by firearm or by any method. Their study was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers studied deaths among 238,292 people who bought a handgun in California in 1991, and compared the buyers to the general population through 1996.

The first week proved to be a critical period. A person who buys a handgun was found to be 57 times more likely than a member of the general population to commit suicide within a week of purchasing the weapon.

Researchers also found that suicide accounted for 52 percent of deaths among female handgun owners age 21 to 44. Compared with the general population, handgun purchasers--especially women--ran a higher risk of suicide by firearm over the entire study period of six years.

Light Drinking Reduces Men's Risk of Stroke

As little as a single glass of wine or beer per week can significantly reduce a man's risk of a stroke, according to the biggest study ever to examine the link. The study of more than 22,000 men found that light to moderate drinkers can lower their risk by about 20 percent compared with teetotalers. One researcher said the results could also apply to women.

Numerous studies have shown that modest drinking reduces risk of heart disease. But evidence of an effect on strokes had been less convincing.

The American Heart Association estimates that each year 600,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke. It is the third-leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

Earlier studies were criticized because they simply compared drinkers to nondrinkers. This latest study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, found that between one drink a week and one a day reduces the risk, and the lesser amount was about as good as the higher one.

There were not enough heavy drinkers in the study--all were doctors age 40 to 84--to examine the effects of more than one a day, but the heart association warns that excessive drinking can raise blood pressure and lead to a stroke. The study found no added protection from stroke by drinking more than moderately.

Researchers attribute alcohol's benefits to its ability to increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, which helps keep arteries clean. Researchers also said alcohol can break up blood clots.

The men in the Physicians' Health Study, which began in 1982, were tracked for about 12 years. In all, subjects reported 679 strokes.