A new research analysis by American Heart Association suggests that even just 1 alcoholic drink a day, may lead to increased blood pressure levels as individuals age.
The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, examined data from seven studies conducted in the U.S., Korea, and Japan.
The surprising finding was that even consuming a low level of alcohol was associated with higher blood pressure changes over time when compared to no alcohol consumption. However, the increase in blood pressure was still significantly less than what heavy drinkers experienced. Dr. Marco Vinceti, the senior author of the study, emphasized the importance of the findings and recommended limiting alcohol intake, especially considering that high blood pressure is a preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Prior research has already shown a connection between alcohol consumption and blood pressure levels, but the relationship between drinking small amounts of alcohol regularly and blood pressure was unclear. The American Heart Association advises that individuals who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should limit their consumption to two drinks per day for men and one for women. One drink is considered equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. However, the AHA also encourages those who don’t already consume alcohol not to start.
The recent analysis examined health data from 19,548 adults in the U.S., Korea, and Japan, tracking their blood pressure measurements over four to 12 years. Both systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure levels showed a continuous rise during the follow-up period, regardless of whether participants had low or high alcohol consumption. Participants ranged in age from 20 to their early 70s, and none had high blood pressure at the beginning of the study.
Comparing regular drinkers to non-drinkers, the researchers found that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements increased more in individuals who consumed alcohol regularly. Systolic blood pressure reflects the pressure when the heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure reflects the pressure in the blood vessels between beats when the heart is at rest.
For those who drank an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day (slightly less than one standard alcoholic drink in the U.S.), systolic blood pressure increased by 1.25 mmHg over five years. In contrast, those who consumed an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day experienced a systolic blood pressure increase of 4.9 mmHg over the study period.
Regarding diastolic blood pressure, it rose by 1.14 mmHg over the study period in men who drank an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day and 3.1 mmHg in men who consumed an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day. Interestingly, there was no significant association between alcoholic beverage consumption and diastolic blood pressure changes in women, although diastolic measurements are not considered as strong predictors of cardiovascular disease as systolic measurements.
To ensure the accuracy of their analysis, the researchers based their findings on the grams of alcohol consumed rather than the number of drinks, as this approach eliminated potential bias resulting from variations in the amount of alcohol contained in “standard drinks” across countries and types of beverages.
Dr. Vinceti concluded that alcohol is not the sole driver of increased blood pressure, but the study’s results confirm that it does contribute significantly. Therefore, he advised limiting alcohol intake, and for even better health outcomes, abstaining from alcohol altogether.