On call: Alcohol, hypertension, and heart attacks

Q. I am a 57-year-old man with a dilemma. I understand from your articles that moderate drinking may help me avoid a heart attack like the one that killed my brother. But I've just been diagnosed with hypertension, and I was told that alcohol can raise my blood pressure and stress my heart. So I need to know if drinking is likely to help my heart or harm my health.

A. Your question itself holds the solution to your quandary; it's the word moderate. In moderate amounts, alcohol does appear to reduce the risk of heart attacks, particularly in men who are middle-aged and older. And while heavy drinking will raise blood pressure and cause many other health problems, moderate drinking does not lead to hypertension. In both cases, a moderate "dose" amounts to one to two drinks a day, counting 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 ounces of liquor as one drink.

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