There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about alcohol and how it impacts heart health. How does it affect individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure)? What is a moderate amount? Is it safe to consume?
This is what you need to know about alcohol and hypertension.
What are the health effects of consuming alcohol and how does it affect my blood pressure?
Most of the alcohol that we consume is absorbed in the upper part of the small intestine, where it enters the bloodstream. It then travels in the blood to the liver where it is broken down. This process causes an increase in triglycerides, or excess fat in the liver and bloodstream. The continued accumulation of triglycerides in the liver may result in a condition known as “fatty liver disease.” In the bloodstream, excess triglycerides can cause blood vessels to become “clogged” and increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
When you drink too much alcohol it can also cause a increase in blood pressure. It’s best for both prevention and treatment of hypertension and cardiovascular disease to limit your alcohol intake to a moderate amount.
What is a moderate amount?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that moderate alcohol consumption for healthy adults may be characterized as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as a 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz spirits. Heavy alcohol consumption is considered more than two drinks per day.
I only drink red wine and heard it’s good for your heart. Do I need to limit that?
This is probably the most conflicting information regarding alcohol consumption. It’s true that red wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols that may be helpful in preventing damage to your blood vessels. Red wine may also increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). However, if you consume heavy amounts of alcohol daily, including red wine, it can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. It is generally not recommended to start drinking (for health benefits or otherwise) if you do not already do so, and if you do drink, to drink moderately.
Is it safe to drink?
Keep in mind that the above recommendations are for healthy adults, and do not necessarily apply to those with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or those with a compromised liver or kidneys. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider about whether or not you can safely consume alcohol. Those on medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, or nitroglycerin should be particularly careful due to their interactions with alcohol.
What are some tips to consider when drinking alcohol?
Exercise discretion when drinking, particularly if you have hypertension.
Use the moderate consumption guidelines above as an upper limit.
Drink with food, avoiding alcohol on an empty stomach.
Savor every sip, drinking slowly to enjoy it fully.
Stay well hydrated – match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
If you choose a mixed drink, opt for seltzer instead of sodium containing club soda or mineral water.
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Reviewed by Emily Matson, MS, RDN
on February 10, 2020. Emily is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Brook Experts.