Our hypertension is susceptible, for good or for ill, to our lifestyle choices. One such choice that impacts directly upon our condition is the amount of alcohol we consume. It follows that we can lower our high blood pressure by limiting the amount of alcohol we consume; but is it necessary to cut out alcohol altogether?
How alcohol increases your blood pressure:
Drinking alcohol has been shown to interfere with the flow of blood to and from the heart. When alcohol courses through your bloodstream, it pushes blood rich in nutrients away from your heart and elevates your BP readings. Heavy alcohol consumption is often associated with being overweight. Carrying those excess pounds indirectly raises our hypertension.
Social drinking is often accompanied by eating snack foods that are high in fat and sodium. These can also contribute to weight gain and sodium, in particular, causes our BP to spike to alarmingly high levels.
The relationship between alcohol consumption and hypertension:
Studies have shown that it is much more difficult to control high blood pressure if you drink heavily.
The risk of hypertension among men and women drinking 1 to 7 units/week was not significantly different from the risk among non-drinkers, ex-drinkers or those drinking less than 1 unit/week, nor among those drinking up to 14 units/week.
However, the risk rose monotonically with alcohol intake above 7 units per week. Compared to a person who drinks 7 units of alcohol per week, men drinking 50 units of alcohol per week (42 units for women) was found to increase systolic blood pressure by more than 5 mmHg and diastolic pressure by more than 3 mmHg. (Source: The Influence of Alcohol on Blood Pressure by Kiran Nanchahal et al, Report to the Alcohol Education & Research Council)
What does this mean for the management of our condition?
If you are hypertensive and like a drink, the good news is that provided you stay within the weekly guidelines of 21 units/week for men and 14 units/week for women, consuming alcohol should not adversely affect your condition.
The clear message is that you can reduce your systolic pressure by as much as 5 mmHg and diastolic pressure by up to 3 mm Hg by limiting your alcohol consumption.
- Limiting our alcohol consumption is an aid to losing weight. As alcohol affects the absorption of nutrients from our food, the additional calories are stored as body fat. Reducing our calorie intake from alcohol and taking more nutrients from our food will help us to lose weight. Every kilogram of extra weight we lose will be reflected in lower BP readings.
- Other studies have shown that consuming alcohol in moderation may have certain health benefits, one of which is to help us relax. Our blood pressure falls when we are relaxed.
If you are a heavy drinker, you can lower your high blood pressure by up to 5 mmHg simplyby limiting the amount of alcohol you consume.