The fact that alcohol and blood pressure are associated has been known since the 1960s, but that hasn’t stopped researchers from exploring this association, given the fact that drinking patterns have changed (binge drinking is on the rise) and that hypertension remains the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, the biggest killer worldwide. So does alcohol raise blood pressure? And just how much, how often, and what types of alcoholic beverages are problematic?
How Much Does Alcohol Increase Blood Pressure
You don’t have to drink excessively to fall victim to alcohol’s effects on high blood-pressure, as a large study published in Clinical Epidemiology (January 2013) showed us an alcohol blood pressure link. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at almost 4,000 current drinkers without hypertension and found that alcohol increased their blood pressure by 1 mmHg for every 10 grams consumed per day.
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How Much Alcohol Is in a Drink?
A standard drink is equal to 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol, more than enough to raise your blood pressure by 1 mmHg. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:
- 12-ounces of beer
- 8-ounces of malt liquor
- 5-ounces of wine
- 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey)
The researchers concluded that any amount of alcohol above 10 grams raises your systolic blood pressure. This information contradicts the previously held belief that small amounts of alcohol (less than 2 drinks a day for men and less than 1 drink a day for women) actually helped blood pressure.
Blood Pressure and Alcohol Types
The type of alcoholic drink doesn’t matter. Hard alcohol, beer, wine, even red wine, all increase your blood pressure and risk of hypertension. That doesn’t mean that certain types of alcoholic drinks, such as red wine, don’t contain other compounds that may be beneficial to health—such as the polyphenol compounds like resveratrol in red wine. Nevertheless, in terms of blood pressure, which is the most common cause of heart attacks and strokes, alcohol is no good!
Binge Drinking Is Especially Dangerous for High Blood Pressure
Binge drinking, a habit that is on the rise in the U.S., is particularly bad for blood pressure in men, the researchers found. Drinking more than five drinks in one day, especially on more than one occasion per week, is considered frequent binge drinking and increases both systolic (top number) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number). Not only that, a previous study found that if you already have hypertension and you binge drink, your risk for suffering a stroke increases immediately and dramatically.
How to Lower Your Alcohol and High Blood Pressure Risk
The good news is that the effects of alcohol and high blood pressure are considered “rapidly reversible”. Even in alcoholics, half of whom have blood pressures greater than 160/90 mm Hg, high blood pressure values have been found to normalize when they abstain from drinking.
If you’re a man with hypertension currently drinking more than two drinks a day, or a woman consuming more than one, try cutting back or abstaining altogether for the next few weeks and watch your blood pressure fall. You may you have less of a need for hypertension medication if you can keep your alcohol consumption low. And, decreasing alcohol is only one of many “natural” treatments for high blood pressure. Look here for more ideas on natural high blood pressure remedies.
Originally published in 2013, this post is regularly updated.