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Could frequent alcohol consumption lead to higher blood pressure? Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty Images
  • High blood pressure can increase the risk of poor health outcomes like heart attacks. Several factors, including lifestyle choices, can influence someone’s risk for high blood pressure.
  • Researchers are still seeking to understand the full impact of certain lifestyle choices on blood pressure levels.
  • Data from a recent study suggests that alcohol consumption is associated with increased systolic blood pressure, even at low levels of alcohol consumption.

Blood pressure is a highly valuable indicator of health. Keeping blood pressure within a healthy range can reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes. Many factors can increase someone’s risk for high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. However, researchers are still seeking to understand the full impact of certain risk factors.

One area of interest is how the consumption of alcohol impacts blood pressure. Drinking alcohol, including in small amounts, is common. However, even drinking small amounts of alcohol may contribute to high blood pressure.

A study published in Hypertension found that drinking alcohol, even as low as one drink a day, was still associated with increased blood pressure.

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the arteries of the body. Systolic blood pressure measures when the heart contracts, and diastolic blood pressure measures when the heart muscles relax.

W?hen blood pressure becomes too high, the risk of damage to the body increases. For example, high blood pressure can increase heart attack and heart failure risk.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include smoking, eating a diet high in sodium, and low physical activity levels. Alcohol intake can also increase risk. However, current recommendations like those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focus on limiting alcohol to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Non-study author Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, elaborated on current guidelines to MNT:

“We have known for a long time that drinking alcohol in moderate to heavy amounts will raise blood pressure. This is very relevant in cardiovascular health because we know that hypertension (elevated blood pressure) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Because of this, we have recommended that people drink no more than a “moderate” amount (2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women).”

One area that requires further study is how much alcohol influences the risk of high blood pressure. Researchers of the current paper wanted to understand how different amounts of alcohol consumption impacted blood pressure levels. For example, do even low levels of alcohol intake influence risk?

T?his research was a dose-response meta-analysis of seven different nonexperimental cohort studies. Researchers looked at data from over 19,500 participants, allowing for vast information collection. The studies included participants from the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

The average follow-up time was just over five years. Each study had to meet strict eligibility criteria, allowing researchers to focus on participants with no previous history of cardiovascular disease.

The study found that drinking alcohol was associated with increased systolic blood pressure for both men and women. There appeared to be no baseline threshold for this association.

When looking at averages, they found that 12 grams of alcohol consumption per day was associated with a 1.25 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure. Twelve grams of alcohol is even lower than one standard drink in the United States, which is fourteen grams of alcohol.

Higher amounts of alcohol were associated with a more significant increase in systolic blood pressure, with 48 grams of daily alcohol associated with an average 4.9 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure.

Study author Dr. Marco Vinceti, an epidemiology and public health professor at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy and adjunct professor in the epidemiology department at Boston University’s School of Public Health, explained to MNT:

“Overall, the general (‘public health’) principle and message for the alcohol & blood pressure relation emerging from our dose-response meta-analysis is ‘the lower the better, and no consumption even better’, as we did not find any indication that human health may benefit from consumption of very small amounts of alcohol.”

The data from this paper does have key limitations. First, there were only so many studies available for analysis. Researchers were unable to study in-depth the relationship between age, blood pressure, and alcohol intake. There were risks for misclassifications, and it is possible that some participants changed alcohol consumption amounts during the follow-up time. The study also didn’t look at how different types of alcohol influenced blood pressure. Some data relied on self-reporting; further data could include more diverse samples.

T?here was a particular risk for bias in the studies that met the eligibility criteria, and there is still the potential risk for residual confounding. There are also a number of opportunities to expand on the research, including understanding more about how alcohol intake influences blood pressure among women.

Dr. Vinceti noted the following areas for continued research:

“Our systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis focused on a continuous endpoint, blood pressure changes over time, but it didn’t look at ‘hard outcomes’ such as hypertension (as a dichotomous outcome), stroke (for which high blood pressure is an established and strong risk factor), coronary heart disease, and eventually overall CVD risk. Therefore, our analysis must be complemented with such additional (and updated) assessments to draw the entire picture of the cardiovascular effects of alcohol intake.”

While it will likely take time and more research, the data from this study could lead to changes in alcohol consumption recommendations. Dr. Chen offered his speculation on this front:

“For a long time, the consensus was that it might be “safe” to drink in moderation. This study adds to other recent data that suggest that NO amount of alcohol consumption can be considered good for the heart. Because of this, I expect that our medical recommendations regarding alcohol consumption are going to change in the future.”