Blood pressure risk even with small amounts of alcohol

The amount of alcohol an individual contributes to raising blood pressure – even if they do not have hypertension, according to a major analysis published today.

Analysis of seven international research studies from the USA, Korea and Japan published today in Hypertension found a continuous increase in blood pressure measures in participants with low and high alcohol intake.

And they warned that detectable increases in blood pressure levels that may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular events were found after even low levels of alcohol consumption.

Senior study author Professor Marco Vinceti, professor of epidemiology and public health in the Medical School of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia University, Italy, said they were surprised by some of the results.

“We found no beneficial effects in adults who drank a low level of alcohol compared to those who did not drink alcohol,” he said.

“We were somewhat surprised to see that consuming an already low level of alcohol was also linked to higher blood pressure changes over time compared to no consumption – although far less than the blood pressure increase seen in heavy drinkers.”

Researchers reviewed the health data for all participants across the seven studies for more than five years, comparing adults who drank alcohol regularly with non-drinkers.

They found systolic blood pressure rose 1.25 mm Hg in people who consumed an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day, rising to 4.9 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day.

Diastolic blood pressure rose 1.14 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day, rising to 3.1 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day. These associations were seen in males but not in females.

Prof Vinceti said: “Alcohol is certainly not the sole driver of increases in blood pressure; however, our findings confirm it contributes in a meaningful way. Limiting alcohol intake is advised, and avoiding it is even better.”

Researchers analysed data from seven, large, observational studies involving 19,548 adults aged 20 to early 70s, of whom 65% were males. None had high blood pressure at the beginning of the studies or had been diagnosed with other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver disease, alcoholism or binge drinking.

Usual alcoholic beverage intake was recorded at the beginning of each study and the researchers translated this information into a usual number of grams of alcohol consumed daily.

The team used a new statistical technique that allowed them to combine results from several studies and plot a curve, which showed the impact of any amount of alcohol typically consumed on changes in blood pressure over time.

Study co-author Dr Paul K. Whelton, of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, USA, and president of the World Hypertension League, said: “We found participants with higher starting blood pressure readings, had a stronger link between alcohol intake and blood pressure changes over time. This suggests that people with a trend towards increased (although still not “high”) blood pressure may benefit the most from low to no alcohol consumption.”

Di Federico S, Filippini T, Whelton PK et al. Alcohol Intake and Blood Pressure Levels: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Nonexperimental Cohort Studies. Hypertension 1 August 2023; doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.123.21224

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