Effect of Small Amounts of Alcohol on Blood Pressure

Regular alcohol consumption, even in fairly small amounts, such as just one drink a day, may increase blood pressure as we get older, says a team of researchers. In a recent study, they found that individuals who regularly drank small quantities of alcohol experienced greater blood pressure increases than their counterparts who never drank.

One photo of a group of people making a toast with drinks, another photo of a doctor taking a patient's blood pressure

Created by MedicalVocab.com using Wikimedia Commons images.

Comprehensive Analysis Across 3 Countries

The researchers, who wrote about their study and findings in the journal Hypertension (citation below), which belongs to the American Heart Association, gathered and analyzed data from seven studies in Japan, South Korea, and the United States.

Senior author, Dr. Marco Vinceti, a professor of epidemiology and public health in the Medical School of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia University in Italy, 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.”

Prof. Vinceti is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Boston University’s School of Public Health.

High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, stands as a significant, albeit avoidable, risk element for heart disease. Close to fifty percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from this condition. Nevertheless, the lack of observable symptoms often means that numerous individuals remain unaware of their high blood pressure unless they specifically look for signs of it.

Previous studies had shown an association between alcohol consumption and levels of blood pressure. However, what effect regularly drinking of alcohol in small quantities might have on blood pressure was unclear.

Alcohol – Recommendations from the AHA

If you drink (alcohol), the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you limit your consumption to two drinks a day if you are a man and one drink if you are a woman. A single drink corresponds to 12 ounces of standard beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. For your information, a pint of beer typically equals 16 ounces, a standard 3/4 liter bottle of wine contains approximately 25 ounces, and a typical tequila shot contains 1.5 ounces. If you do not currently consume alcohol, the AHA advises you not to start.

In this latest study, the researchers gathered and analyzed the health information of 19,548 adults from the U.S., Korea, and Japan. It revealed a consistent elevation in blood pressure readings over a span of four to 12 years, irrespective of whether individuals consumed alcohol minimally or excessively. The participants’ ages varied from 20 to early 70s. None of them suffered from hypertension when the study period began. As mentioned earlier, Hypertension means high blood pressure.

When they compared regular drinkers to teetotalers, the researchers found that regular drinkers’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings had risen more. The systolic measurement represents the pressure exerted when the heart contracts and beats. Conversely, the diastolic measurement denotes the pressure within the blood vessels during the interval between beats, when the heart is in its resting phase.

Among individuals who consumed an average of 12 grams of alcohol daily, which is roughly just under one typical alcoholic beverage in the U.S., there was an increase of 1.25 mmHg in systolic blood pressure over a span of five years. For those who ingested an average of 48 grams of alcohol each day, the systolic blood pressure escalated by 4.9 mmHg throughout the duration of the study.

Over the duration of the study, men who consumed an average of 12 grams and 48 grams of alcohol daily experienced a rise in diastolic blood pressure of 1.14 mmHg and 3.1 mmHg, respectively. The consumption of alcoholic beverages did not correlate with changes in diastolic blood pressure in women. Compared to systolic blood pressure measurements, diastolic readings are not viewed as a robust indicator of potential cardiovascular disease.

Conclusions: Alcohol and Hypertension

The researchers explained that they focused on the quantity of alcohol consumed in grams, rather than the number of drinks, to circumvent potential bias stemming from variations in the alcohol content found in “standard drinks” across different countries and beverage categories.

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,” Vinceti said. “Limiting alcohol intake is advised, and avoiding it is even better.”

Di Federico, Silvia, Tommaso Filippini, Paul K. Whelton, Marta Cecchini, Inga Iamandii, Giuseppe Boriani, and Marco Vinceti. “Alcohol Intake and Blood Pressure Levels: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Nonexperimental Cohort Studies.” Hypertension, vol. 0, 2023, doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.123.21224.