The sobering truth about alcohol and blood pressure

Drinking alcohol is a bit of a double-edged sword.

For instance, if you’re one of those people who loves a glass of red wine with dinner, you could be benefiting from a healthier mouth and gut microbiome. The antioxidants in red wine can also help reduce the risk of heart diseasediabetesAlzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer.

Beer has been linked with numerous health benefits as well, including reduced inflammation, better heart health, lower cholesterol, improved blood sugar balance and a boost in weight loss.

However, there is also plenty of research that even a drink here and there can lead to a number of health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver disease, diabetes, pancreatitis and chronic lower respiratory infections.

The American Heart Association advises women to consume no more than one drink per day, and men to consume no more than two drinks per day. But researchers found that to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range, even that may be too much…

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Alcohol increases blood pressure in healthy adults

Researchers analyzed data from seven studies involving more than 19,000 adults ranging in age from 20 to the early 70s in the United States, Korea and Japan. None of the participants had previously been diagnosed with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver disease, alcoholism or binge drinking.

Usual alcoholic beverage intake was recorded at the beginning of each study and translated into a usual number of grams of alcohol consumed daily. Then, they used a statistical technique to plot a curve showing the impact of alcohol consumption on changes in blood pressure over time.

When comparing people who drank alcohol with nondrinkers, what the researchers found was sobering:

  • Systolic (top number) blood pressure rose 1.25 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in people who consumed an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day. That’s less than the 14 grams of alcohol contained in one drink by U.S. measures (12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor).
  • Systolic blood pressure rose by 4.9 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day (roughly 3.4 drinks).
  • Diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure rose 1.14 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day and 3.1 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day. The diastolic associations were seen in males but not females. Diastolic blood pressure isn’t as strong a predictor of heart disease risk as systolic is.

Bottom line: routine alcohol consumption raises blood pressure even in healthy adults with no existing hypertension or diabetes.

“We were somewhat surprised to see that consuming an already-low level of alcohol was also linked to higher blood pressure changes over time compared to no consumption — although far less than the blood pressure increase seen in heavy drinkers,” says senior study author Dr. Marco Vinceti of the Medical School of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia University in Italy and Boston University’s School of Public Health.

“Alcohol is certainly not the sole driver of increases in blood pressure; however, our findings confirm it contributes in a meaningful way,” Viceti adds. “Limiting alcohol intake is advised, and avoiding it is even better.”

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The higher the pressure, the stronger the link

Even though none of the participants had high blood pressure when they enrolled in the studies, their initial measurements did have an impact on the findings.

“We found participants with higher starting blood pressure readings had a stronger link between alcohol intake and blood pressure changes over time,” says study co-author Dr. Paul K. Whelton of Tulane University. “This suggests that people with a trend towards increased (although still not “high”) blood pressure may benefit the most from low to no alcohol consumption.”

The study results reinforce AHA guidance to limit alcohol intake and to remain a teetotaler if you already don’t drink. In fact, it might be advisable to have even less than the one- to two-drink daily limit cited by the AHA.

If you’re a daily drinker, you may want to cut back to once or twice a week or limit your consumption to special occasions. On the other nights, you can always replace your cocktail with a mocktail, or choose nonalcoholic wine or beer to go with your meal.

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Routinely drinking alcohol may raise blood pressure even in adults without hypertension — EurekAlert!

#BPraisers: Things That Raise Your Blood Pressure — American Heart Association

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.