Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Alcohol: Moderation matters, especially with high blood pressure

Moderation should be a mantra for anyone who drinks alcohol. A little bit seems to be good for the heart and arteries; a lot isn't. A study from Korea suggests that overdoing it is especially bad for people with uncontrolled high blood pressure.

"Overdoing it," also called binge drinking, isn't a precisely defined term. The Korean team defined it as having six or more drinks on one occasion. It has also been defined as downing five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men or four or more for women. However binge drinking is defined, it is significantly more than the two drinks per day for men and one for women that constitutes moderate drinking.

In the Korean study of 6,100 men and women, those with uncontrolled high blood pressure (systolic pressure over 168 or diastolic pressure over 110) who said they sometimes binged were four times more likely to have died over the course of the 20-year study. Among drinkers with healthy blood pressure, binge drinking had little effect on survival.

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