(14) High Blood Pressure
I have heard that drinking alcohol is now considered good for you! I always thought that too much can be bad. Which is right?
There is a relationship between high alcohol consumption and higher BP levels. High alcohol consumption is clearly associated with a substantial risk of having high BP that requires treatment.
Regular heavy drinking raises BP, particularly in young men. This response varies, and is substantial in some people, so much so that, in many young men with diastolic pressures consistently over 100 mmHg, BP may fall to normal without medication, once drinking is reduced to a pint or two of beer each day.
High alcohol intake is a common cause of treatment failure and, if your BP refuses to fall despite apparently adequate treatment, you should think about what you are drinking. Heavy drinking in one session (bingeing) can cause a rapid though brief rise in BP, which may precipitate a stroke in older people.
Very heavy drinking (15 pints a day or more for a man) increases coronary risk. However, there is consistent evidence that moderate drinking (up to 2 pints of beer or 4 glasses of wine a day for men, half that for women) reduces risk of heart attack, probably through effects on blood cholesterol and clotting factors.
I know I drink more than the recommended number of units per day of alcohol. Should I reduce my alcohol consumption? Will this be effective in bringing down my BP?
Our advice to people who drink over the recommended levels of 21 and 28 units per week for women and men, respectively, is to reduce their alcohol consumption. There is a reduction in coronary heart disease associated with modest alcohol consumption (less than 2 units of alcohol a day), so drinking a glass of wine each day really is good for you! However, in people who have high BP sufficient to warrant the doctor to consider prescribing drug treatment, reducing alcohol consumption is an effective way of reducing high BP and avoiding having to take BP-lowering drugs.
Consumption of one or two drinks of alcohol per day is probably safe and may be protective, but any more than this is associated with an increase in BP and consequent risk of heart attack or stroke.