- New research has confirmed a link between alcohol consumption and an increase in blood pressure for even moderate drinkers.
- The analysis included seven studies and more than 19,000 people across three countries.
- Experts say that in clinical settings there are many reasons why even mild alcohol consumption can become problematic.
Dr. Paul K. Whelton, a professor at Tulane University and one of the authors of the study, says that one of the main benefits of research like this is that, unlike with a clinical or observational-style study, this analysis could determine what others had already suspected was true: that drinking low levels of alcohol will still raise your blood pressure.
“We were very interested to find that [result] because many people, of course … just haven’t had the statistical power to recognize it.”
This recent research identified that for those ingesting a standard drink per day, on average — defined in the US as 14 grams of alcohol and in Europe as 12 grams — their systolic blood pressure (the top number on a standard blood pressure reading) rose by 1.5 millimeters of mercury. The studies included in the analysis included participants from the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
Dr. Bharath Chakravarthy, a board-certified emergency physician and vice-chair of Academic Affairs and Research at the University of California-Irvine says that it’s important for clinicians to understand the impact moderate drinking can have on blood pressure, especially when other risk factors are considered.
“Essentially, when patients do drink alcohol consistently, even if it’s three or four drinks a week, that can elevate your blood pressure. That elevated blood pressure is one of the risk factors for cardiac or heart disease and amongst many other things like smoking and diabetes, cholesterol, and family history.”
Whelton chaired the creation of the 2017 American Heart Association hypertension guidelines. Still, he says that one challenge when trying to equate the number of drinks a person has to any blood pressure increase is that American drinking establishments tend to pour more than the US standard and that’s what consumers are used to.
“Especially where I live in New Orleans, if you asked for a drink and somebody brought you a pour that was one standard drink you would say. ‘Get back there you cheapskate.’”
Like any research, there were limitations. Whelton and his team found that there were some areas, including for women, where more specific data would have been valuable. This contributed to 65% of the participants being men. The researchers also noted that future work should be done to broaden available data when it comes to age and the forms of alcohol being consumed. The patients in the seven studies included in the meta-analysis were followed between 4 and 12 years.
This meta-analysis, which included studies that started their analyses as far back as 1977, is part of a large canon of work when it comes to researching the link between blood pressure and alcohol.
In practice, Dr. Renee Dua (MD), who is board certified in nephrology, hypertension as well as being the co-founder of medical tech company Renee, says that, as an example, medical advice has recently shifted away from previous research suggesting that a glass of wine could be good for your heart. Now, her discussions with patients take a different tack, including with those who might consider themselves moderate drinkers.
“In the last year and a half, we’ve now recognized that, in fact, any consumption of alcohol is not good for your heart. So. the conversation I’ve been having in my office is, ‘Listen if you don’t need to drink, don’t … If there’s a different way that you can relax, try to incorporate that into your evening routine.”
Another concern for those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (one to two drinks per day), according to Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary critical care doctor at the University of Southern California who also works as chief medical advisor for SleepAdvisor, the possible consequences of mixing alcohol with drugs you may already be taking to control your blood pressure.
“Drinking alcohol can interact with certain blood pressure medications. And that’s why it’s so important to tell your healthcare provider that [you] do drink alcohol. It can affect the level of the medication in your body and possibly [lead to] increasing the side effects of medication.”
Whelton says that being able to combine the powers of clinical trials and observational studies within the meta-analysis allows researchers to inform future decisions when it comes to guidance surrounding alcohol consumption.
“The totality of the information, of course, is always more insightful than any one particular study or any one particular design. But I would say here [there’s] fairly convincing evidence, that if you stop drinking, that’s probably better from a blood pressure point of view.
Part of the puzzle when it comes to the reduction of even mild alcohol consumption is providing alcohol-free options at public events, something that Chakravarthy says he’s happy to be seeing more.
“It’s not terribly common, but it’s not uncommon. And so these are the types of things that we can teach our patients, other ways that you can enjoy a social environment. To pour yourself a glass of something that’s not alcoholic and still feel part of the social infrastructure.”