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Alcohol consumption linked to continuous rise in blood pressure

A study published by the American Heart Association in the journal Hypertension has revealed new details about the relationship between alcohol consumption and systolic blood pressure

The researchers found a clear and continuous rise in systolic blood pressure levels with the increase in daily alcohol consumption. This correlation was observed even in individuals with no pre-existing hypertension.

Study senior author Dr. Marco Vinceti is a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia University in Italy and an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. 

“Our findings suggest that alcohol intake, even at low levels, is associated with a detectable increase in blood pressure,” said Dr. Vinceti. “Interestingly, we found no beneficial effects in adults who drank a low level of alcohol compared to those who abstained. Even the consumption of an already-low level of alcohol was linked to higher blood pressure changes over time, albeit much less compared to heavy drinkers.”

Focus of the study

The study was focused on data from seven international studies involving over 19,000 adult participants from the United States, Korea, and Japan.

To avoid bias due to variations in the alcohol content of ‘standard drinks’ across different countries and types of beverages, the research team based their analysis on the quantity of alcohol consumed, measured in grams. 

Study co-author Dr. Tommaso Filippini explained that the researchers reviewed health data of all participants from the seven studies over a period of more than five years.

What the researchers learned 

The researchers found that systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) rose by 1.25 mm Hg in individuals who consumed an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day. This increase escalated to 4.9 mm Hg in those consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day. This trend was predominantly observed in males. 

Moreover, diastolic blood pressure, which measures the force against artery walls between heartbeats, also showed a significant increase. However, it’s worth noting that diastolic blood pressure is not as strong a predictor of heart disease risk as systolic pressure.

Implications of the study 

“Our study affirms that alcohol contributes significantly to increases in blood pressure. Limiting alcohol intake is advisable, and total avoidance is even better,” said Dr. Vinceti. 

The research also highlighted that participants with higher initial blood pressure readings had a stronger link between alcohol consumption and blood pressure changes over time. This suggests that those with a trend toward higher blood pressure may benefit the most from reduced alcohol consumption.

The research reinforces the American Heart Association’s lifestyle and health metrics for optimal cardiovascular health, known as Life’s Essential 8: eat healthy food, be physically active, don’t smoke, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy weight, and manage cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels. 

The study underscores the potential dangers of regular alcohol consumption. The American Heart Association’s advice is – if you don’t drink, don’t start, and if you do drink, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.

Health effects of alcohol consumption 

Alcohol consumption, even in moderate amounts, can have a wide array of health impacts. These effects can be both short-term and long-term and can affect various aspects of bodily function and overall health.

Cardiovascular health

As detailed in the recent study in Hypertension, alcohol use can lead to elevated blood pressure, even in individuals without hypertension. In the long term, this can contribute to heart disease. 

Heavy drinking, particularly over time, can also lead to cardiomyopathy – a condition where the heart muscle weakens and cannot pump blood effectively – as well as heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial and ventricular fibrillation.

Liver health

One of the organs most impacted by alcohol consumption is the liver, due to its role in metabolizing alcohol. Chronic heavy drinking can lead to various liver diseases such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and ultimately, cirrhosis, which involves permanent damage and scarring to the liver tissue.

Neurological effects

Alcohol consumption affects the nervous system and can lead to impaired coordination, slowed reaction times, and blurred vision. 

Chronic use can lead to serious neurological damage, including a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is characterized by short-term memory loss, confusion, and loss of muscle coordination.

Digestive system

Alcohol can inflame the lining of the stomach, which can interfere with digestion and lead to issues like ulcers and gastritis. It can also affect nutrient absorption in the intestines.

Mental health

Alcohol can have significant impacts on mental health. While some people may consume alcohol to cope with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, in the long run, it can exacerbate these conditions. Alcohol is a depressant, and heavy use can lead to major depressive episodes.

Cancer risk

Regular alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including mouth, esophageal, liver, colon, and breast cancer. The risk increases the more alcohol a person drinks.


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