Does Alcohol Raise Your Blood Pressure? The Relationship Between Alcohol Use, High Blood Pressure And Heart Disease

The Relationship Between Alcohol Use High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

You must have heard a lot about the dangers of consuming too much alcohol. Excessive drinking is linked to liver disease, violence, cancer and death via homicide and suicide. However, you might not be aware of the relationship between alcohol, blood pressure and heart disease.

Maybe your doctor advised you on one or more occasions to cut back on your alcohol usage.  Have you ever wondered why? Although, it is unclear how alcohol affects younger people’s heart, a research published in Harvard Health suggest excessive alcohol consumption in older adults can affect the structure of the heart.

If you have high blood pressure reducing and or eliminating your alcohol intake can improve your blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force, which the circulating blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels, and normal blood pressure is vital for health and life. An abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) on the other hand, can damage the blood vessels causing heart or cardiovascular diseases.

Heart diseases describe a wide range of disease conditions that could affect the heart. Such diseases include blood vessel diseases, e.g., coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart failure, heart muscle diseases, etc. Alcohol is said to be linked somehow to some of these diseases.

Here we would talk about the connection between alcohol, hypertension, and heart disorders.

The link between alcohol and high blood pressure

Several factors can contribute to elevated blood pressure, and alcohol consumption happens to be amongst those factors. Some studies propose that drinking alcohol in ‘moderation’ is beneficial to the heart because of the antioxidant properties contained in some alcoholic drinks and its tendency to lower the cholesterol level. However, lots of studies have confirmed that drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to highly unhealthy levels.

The extent to which alcohol would affect your blood pressure level is also dependent on certain factors such as your lifestyle, genetic constituents as well as your age. For instance, your weight, constant exposure to stress, and your dietary intake could also play a role here.

The fact is , alcohol affects each person in a different way.

According to Arthur Klatsky, MD and an investigator for Kaiser Permanente’s research division, “A good number of people are not meant to drink alcohol at all because of specific reasons like a family history of alcoholism as well as heart or liver diseases. However, one or two glasses can be justified for people without hereditary predisposition”. He also stated that adults that are 50 years and older have a higher risk of heart attack and light-moderate drinking might only have little effect on their health.

This is to say that younger people are not better off as light-moderate drinkers because their risk of developing heart attack is still on the low; thus, they are likely not to gain any benefit (like antioxidant effect and reduced cholesterol level) from drinking. From every indication here, a drinking rule would hardly apply to everyone. From a medical viewpoint, it is dependent on an individual’s entire health profile.

Another factor to consider asides the amount of alcohol taken per sitting is the frequency. Having too much of a drink in one sitting would temporarily increase the blood pressure; however, frequent excessive intake can cause long-term increases. Cutting down on drinking can reduce your systolic blood pressure by about 2 to 4 mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure by 1 to 2 mmHg.

Another link that alcohol has with blood pressure is that it contains calories, which can cause increased weight gain. Excessive weight gain is another risk factor for high blood pressure. Also, if you have already been diagnosed with hypertension and is placed on medication, you should know that alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of your medication as well as increase its side effects.

Alcohol and heart diseases: Is alcohol good for the heart?

Does alcohol have an effect on the heart? Lots of studies have shown that it does; however, this effect seems to be a combination of both positive and negative effects. Some studies show that alcohol could contribute to a healthy heart while some other studies have shown alcohol as a risk factor to heart diseases.

Chronic excessive alcohol usage can damage the cells  the cells of the heart. When this occurs, the heart will stop working efficiently.

Professor Jonathan Chick, the Medical Director of Castle Craig Hospital and Dr. Fiona Sim, the Chief Medical Advisor at  agree that alcohol and the heart are linked and that it is not advisable for men and women to drink more than 14 sevings per week. This was in line with the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk guidelines, which says that it is better to restrict alcohol to not more than 14 servings  per week, in order to avoid health risks. Also, this guideline states that the more one drinks on a regular basis, the higher the chance of developing different health complications. (One unit of alcohol here is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol).

Dr. Sim is also of the opinion that alcohols are likely to affect cholesterol levels in the blood, thus reducing the number of fatty acids known as atheroma. Atheroma causes narrowing of arteries predisposing them to clog. He also said that alcohol could help prevent blood clot formation, which can narrow the arteries and lead to a heart attack.

A study published online in March 2017 discovered that drinking less than 14 units for the women and less than 21 units for the men reduced the risk of the initial development of some common cardiovascular diseases. Another study also found that the risk of having heart diseases was increased in drinkers by a distinct dose-response relationship. Thus, the more you drink, the higher the risk. This ultimately means what you get from alcohol consumption is also dependent on the quantity you consume.

Drinking alcohol might have a slight protective effect on the heart, but its risk and harmful heart effects surely outweigh such benefit. You are likely to benefit from it only when you drink lightly and have it spaced out during the week. Consuming much at a go could even lead to a heart attack, also termed, ‘holiday heart.’

Is wine really good for your heart and why?

There is always this debate as to whether the wine is good for health. The adage that ‘red wine is good for the heart’ seems to be in support of its benefit to the cardiac system. However, how true is this?

It may help increase the ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level

According to John Williams, a cardiologist at the John Hopkins hospital, the truth here is not clear-cut. Asides the evidence that shows that moderate amounts of alcohol can slightly increase the levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, some researches have shown that red wine, in particular, has protective effects on the heart.

On this issue, Professor Chick thought that the protective effects that seem to be attributed to wine could be because wine is often taken during meal times than beers and spirits. Dr. John William, in relation to this, said that perhaps the cause of this effect could be that red wine shippers have greater access to healthier foods and are thus, more likely to consume heart-healthy diet.

It may help reduce the risk of heart diseases

Red wine is indicated to contain antioxidants and produce anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants prevent the formation of free radicals. Both properties tend to reduce the risk of heart diseases.

It lowers the risk of death that could have resulted from heart diseases

Most times, diseases that affect the heart ultimately result in death. A study carried out in Danish reported that people who consumed low to moderate amounts of wine were much less likely to die from heart diseases or even stroke when compared with people who consumed beer and other spirits.

What kind of wine is good for your health?

When we talk of wine, let’s not forget there are types of wine. Broadly, wine can be classified under four main categories;

  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Sparkling wine
  • Dessert wine or fortified wine

However, the major ones or the most popular ones are red wine and white wine. The process of making each type can be slightly different, however, they all go through the process of harvesting of grapes, crushing and pressing the grapes, fermenting the grapes, aging the wine and then bottling the wine.

The major backbone of white wine is its acidity, which lends it a crisp or dry flavor. On the other hand, tannins provide the backbone of red wine. That is to say; red wines contain more tannins than the white wines; this gives it the astringent or slightly bitter taste.

Red wine is said to be healthier than white wine because red wines are particularly abundant in the plant compounds present in the grape skins (since they are allowed to ferment before they are pressed). White wine, on the other hand, contains some of these healthy plant compounds but only in smaller amounts.

Red wines specifically are the wines linked with protective properties to the heart. It is, in fact, believed to be responsible for the ‘French paradox.’ The phrase ‘French paradox is used to refer to the fact that the French people seem to experience low rates of heart diseases despite the fact that they consume excessive amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat. Some experts believe that the red wine, which formed part of their dietary constituents, was responsible for creating that sort of immunity from the harmful effects of the cholesterols.

Some studies have reported that tannins, as contained in red wines, reduce blood pressure. A survey carried out in France by Crozier and Roger Corder of Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, London to identify the exact compounds in red wine that makes for a healthy heart showed that flavonoids which are basically condensed tannins inhibited the production of the peptide which is responsible for arterial hardening.

  • Antioxidants such as resveratrol, proanthocyanidins, catechin, and epicatechin contained in red wines are also indicated to be responsible for its health benefits.
  • Resveratrol has been linked with health benefits such as inhibiting inflammation and blood clotting as well as reducing cancer risks and the risk of developing heart diseases.
  • Proanthocyanidins lower oxidative damage in the body and also acts to prevent heart diseases.

What quantity of wine or alcohol is recommended for men and women?

Even though studies have repeatedly shown that moderate consumption of red wine seems to reduce the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, you should, however, know that there is seemly only a thin line between moderate and excessive consumption. Usually, the alcohol content in red wines ranges from 12% to 15%. A study showed that people who consume about 150 ml (5 oz.) of red wine a day seemed to have about 32% lower risk of developing heart diseases than non-drinkers. However, higher intake has indicated to increase the risk of heart diseases drastically.

As regarding the right quantity of red wine to take, a study has shown that consuming 1 to 3 glasses of red wine per day in about 3 or 4 days of the week is very much likely to reduce the risk of having a stroke in middle-aged men. Another study reported taking 2 to 3 glasses of dealcoholized red wine could reduce blood pressure.

According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the moderate red wine consumption or recommended quantity to be consumed is as follows:

  • 1 – 1.5 glasses per day for women
  • 1 – 2 glasses per day for men

Note here, that a standard drink is defined as 148 ml (5 ounces) glass of 12% alcohol wine even though some red wine such as those from California contain higher alcohol (about 13 to 15% by volume). Some other sources also advice that you shouldn’t consume it all days of the week, it is recommended that you have at least 1 to 2 alcohol-free days a week.

In Summary,

Light or moderate consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, has been linked with certain benefits to the heart. However, this is not a reason why alcohol consumption should be encouraged, especially among youths.

Alcohol consumers should be aware that even moderate consumption of alcohol could increase blood pressure as well as the risk of other disease conditions such as cancers and alcohol-related liver diseases. Instead of relying on alcohol to protect you from coronary or heart diseases, you should instead adopt healthy lifestyles that includes being more active, decrease sodium , increase potassium  and lose weight.




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