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How Alcohol Affects Your Blood Pressure
Alcohol has a negative effect on blood pressure. Drinking too many alcoholic drinks in one sitting can cause an immediate, short-term increase in blood pressure, while continued, long-term drinking can cause lasting elevated blood pressure.
Drinking alcohol causes the blood vessels to narrow, which causes hypertension, or a rise in blood pressure. This can lead to serious issues and increases the risk of having:
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced blood flow
- Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
- Heart attack or stroke
- Alcohol-induced vascular dementia
- Kidney disease
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most common health problem associated with alcohol use. Stage 1 hypertension is classified with a systolic blood pressure reading of 130-139 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80-89 mm Hg.
Many people, including those moderate drinkers, suffer from hypertension without realizing it is affecting them.
How Does Alcohol Raise Blood Pressure?
The direct effects of alcohol on blood pressure is related to how alcohol is processed in the body. Alcohol causes blood vessels to constrict and narrow. When blood vessels narrow, the heart must work harder and exert more force to move blood through the body, resulting in higher blood pressure.
It is thought that drinking alcohol raises blood pressure by decreasing vasodilators such as nitric oxide (NO) in the vascular system, resulting in the inability to dilate and widen blood vessels. This could be due to inhibiting nitric oxide synthase or a purely inflammatory response, but it is currently uncertain regarding the exact method of limiting vasodilation.
What is certain is that alcohol consumption is a leading risk factor for hypertension. Regular drinking, even as little as one alcoholic beverage per day, can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. This is especially true for people 35 years of age and older.
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How Long Does Alcohol Affect Your Blood Pressure?
Alcohol has an immediate effect on blood pressure. Even a single alcoholic drink has been shown to cause an acute increase in blood pressure, though this was also shown to subside after about two hours.
In the medium-term, alcohol use over the course of several days can lead to a more sustained increase in blood pressure. This also subsides over time, but over a period of days rather than a period of a couple hours.
In alcoholics or those suffering from alcohol addiction, hypertension is prevalent. However, this condition generally subsides after alcohol withdrawal and recovery.
Based on these findings, the current consensus is that alcohol typically exerts only a short-term and impermanent effect on blood pressure.
Which Alcohol is Good for Blood Pressure?
The assertion that red wine is beneficial for heart health may be a myth — linkage between red wine consumption and heart health has been shown to be caused by other lifestyle factors. However, other research states that “moderation is key.”
In most places with sustained red wine consumption, such as France and northern Spain, wine is typically a part of a well-balanced meal. It is more common to see red wine paired with salads and heart-healthy food than greasy fast food, which likely accounts for much of the findings on blood pressure in those who regularly drink red wine.
Red wine is also less likely to be consumed in excess when paired with food and treated as an integral part of a balanced diet. Drinking one glass of wine several times per week is less damaging to the heart than consuming multiple glasses in one sitting.
Aside from this beverage, there has been no evidence that any other alcoholic drinks provide any type of benefit for blood pressure. In fact, in all other cases, alcohol has been shown to increase blood pressure, which can lead to heart problems and other long-term health concerns.
Is High Blood Pressure Due to Alcohol Use Reversible?
Fortunately, yes — high blood pressure due to alcohol use is largely reversible. Several studies have shown that the acute effects of increased blood pressure from a single drink subside within a couple of hours. Medium-term impacts are more pronounced, as it takes more than a few hours to bring baseline blood pressure down to pre-alcohol levels. However, this still subsides within a matter of days or weeks.
Perhaps the most important factor in determining if hypertension caused by alcohol use is reversible is how it affects long-term alcoholics. Studies show that blood pressure will return to normal or average levels not associated with alcohol use even in people with severe alcohol addictions who stop drinking.
This implies that hypertension due to alcohol use is entirely reversible, though irreversible damage can still be done to the heart and body during the time that blood pressure remains elevated.
Other Factors That Affect Blood Pressure Levels
In addition to alcohol use, several other factors affect blood pressure levels. These factors, when combined with even moderate drinking, can lead to increased blood pressure. They include:
- Weight gain
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Dietary deficiencies
- Elevated stress levels
- Family history of hypertension
- Medications or other regimens that affect the heart
Preventing High Blood Pressure
Perhaps the most important step in preventing high blood pressure is to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, both per day and over longer periods of time. This is essential to consider if trying to prevent high blood pressure, given that the risk for developing high blood pressure significantly increases with as little as one drink per day.
There are also several things you can do to prevent high blood pressure or help lower blood pressure, in addition to reducing alcohol intake. These include:
- Losing weight
- Eating a healthier diet
- Reducing sodium intake
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Reducing stress levels
- Taking prescribed blood pressure medications if needed
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