Study: Moderate drinkers twice as likely to have high blood pressure

Doctors call alarming new research “turning point for education and public health policy regarding alcohol consumption.”

WINSTON-SALEM, N. C. — Heavy drinkers and even people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol per week tend to have higher blood pressure and are far more likely to suffer from hypertension, according to a new study released by the American Academy of Cardiology.

Researchers monitored 17,059 adults enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, a decades-long, nationally representative study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They say that moderate drinkers — people who had seven to 13 drinks weekly — were 53 percent more likely to have stage 1 hypertension, and twice as likely to have stage two. Similarly, heavy drinkers (14+ drinks per week) were 69 percent more likely to develop stage 1, and 2.4 times more likely to advance to stage 2.

Stage 1 hypertension is classified by a blood pressure reading of 130-139/80-89. Stage 2 sets in when a person’s systolic blood pressure is 140 or higher, and their diastolic pressure reaches 90.

The authors say the study challenges prior research claiming that moderate drinking is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, since hypertension is among the top risk factors for heart attack and stroke. They argue those studies didn’t take blood pressure into account when studying moderate drinkers.

“I think this will be a turning point for clinical practice, as well as for future research, education and public health policy regarding alcohol consumption,” says Dr. Amer Aladin, a cardiology fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Health and the study’s lead author, in a media release. “It’s the first study showing that both heavy and moderate alcohol consumption can increase hypertension.”

Aladin believes the findings may stem from alcohol’s effect on appetite. Drinkers tend to eat more and thus consume more calories, in addition to what they’re taking in from the alcoholic beverages. They also point to the effect of alcohol in the brain and liver as possible reasons in blood pressure spikes.

Participants were surveyed on their weekly alcohol consumption and had blood pressure readings taken in their homes by researchers over the study period. The average blood pressure among non-drinkers was 109/67 mmHg, compared to 128/79 mmHg for moderate drinkers and 153/82 mmHg for heavy drinkers. Results were adjusted for other factors and demographics linked to hypertension.

“This study is not only large but diverse in terms of race and gender,” Aladin says. “The results are very informative for future research and practice. If you are drinking a moderate or large amount of alcohol, ask your provider to check your blood pressure at each visit and help you cut down your drinking and eventually quit.”

The research is being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans.

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