Even “Moderate” Alcohol Consumption can Raise Blood Pressure and Cause Harm
It’s not just excessive drinking that is harmful to one’s health. Recent findings show regular drinking can raise blood pressure and cause complications in otherwise healthy people.
New Findings Challenge the “Moderate Drinking” Narrative
For decades, the medical community has broadly asserted that one drink per day for women is fine and that one to two drinks per day for men is also okay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still publishes this data as the standard for what remains to be referred to as “moderate drinking.”
However, a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that any degree of daily drinking increases blood pressure in both men and women, putting them at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
Researchers assigned to the study analyzed the results of seven prior studies that included 19,000 adults from the United States, Korea, and Japan. Patients in each study were tracked for more than five years, enabling the researchers to see how varying degrees of alcohol consumption affected patients over time. Compared with not drinking alcohol, just one drink per day was associated with higher blood pressure over time, including in participants who started with normal blood pressure levels and weren’t predisposed to blood pressure conditions.
The researchers said their findings justified a hypothesis that any amount of drinking is harmful to cardiovascular health. “The findings indicate that a positive – [meaning] direct – relation between alcohol intake and blood pressure increases over time [does] exist, even at low alcohol intake, something that was unclear and debated so far in the scientific literature,” said Dr. Marco Vinceti, lead study author. He went on to explain that drinking small amounts of alcohol does not affect blood pressure as much as consuming high quantities of alcohol, but that it still does affect it.
Medical experts have put together different theories on how alcohol affects blood pressure, from chemicals in alcohol stimulating the fight or flight response to alcohol affecting the stress hormone cortisol. But no matter the details of how alcohol affects blood pressure, an increasing number of health experts recognize that any alcohol has a harmful effect, as opposed to the outdated narrative of alcohol only having a negative effect when one drinks more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. “If you’re not drinking, don’t start,” said Dr. Paul Whelton, chair of global public health at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. “If you are drinking, try to reduce your intake or quit drinking.”
Alcohol’s Broader Effects on the Human Body
Research provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found that alcohol harms several critical areas of the human body, with the degree to which these areas are harmed being largely influenced by how much one drinks, how often one drinks, and for how many years they have been drinking. Alcohol harms areas like:
- The brain. In addition to putting one at greater risk for different types of strokes, alcohol consumption interferes with the brain’s communication pathways. In the short term, this manifests in drunkenness, loss of coordination and reduced reaction time. Poor decision-making, difficulty forming cohesive thoughts, and reduced cognitive function also occur. Over time, continued alcohol consumption can affect how the brain looks and works.
- The heart. As mentioned earlier, even just one drink per day increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Alcohol consumption can also lead to heart problems like cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias.
- The liver. Drinking over time also takes a serious toll on the liver. Alcohol consumption is responsible for about half of the roughly 100,000 liver disease deaths in the U.S. annually. Alcohol consumption puts one at risk for life-threatening liver conditions like steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. People who drink too much can also experience liver failure and will require a transplant.
- The pancreas. When one consumes alcohol, the chemicals in alcohol cause the pancreas to produce a toxic substance. Over time, this can lead to dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, a critical health condition that prevents proper digestion.
- Weight. Alcohol consumption is also associated with weight gain and obesity, which can lead to several other health issues.
- Cancer. Alcohol has also been linked to several cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 4% of annual cancer-related deaths (about 20,000 deaths) are connected to alcohol consumption.
- The immune system. Drinking alcohol also hampers the body’s immune response, making one more likely to contract viruses, pathogens, bacteria, and other infectious illnesses while one is drinking and for up to 24 hours after drinking.
Alcohol has negative effects on the body in many ways. The healthiest approach is not to drink.
The Need for Treatment for Those Who Can’t Stop Drinking
New scientific data connects alcohol consumption to negative health outcomes, even for people who “only have one drink.” People who drink should significantly curb their drinking. Ceasing alcohol consumption altogether would be ideal, as any amount of alcohol creates a risk of harmful effects while providing no benefits.
For those who consume alcohol and cannot stop on their own, they must seek professional help. If you know someone addicted to alcohol, please help them find and enter a qualified residential alcohol addiction treatment center. Please don’t wait until it is too late for them or until alcohol addiction takes over entirely.
- CDC. “Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023. cdc.gov
- JAHA. “Alcohol Intake and Blood Pressure Levels: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Nonexperimental Cohort Studies.” Journal of the American Heart Association, 2023. ahajournals.org
- USNews. “Regular Drinking Can Raise Blood Pressure in the Otherwise Healthy.” U.S. News, 2023. usnews.com
- NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov