Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Alcohol and high blood pressure

Heart Beat

Alcohol and high blood pressure

Lay off alcohol is one of the first things people with newly diagnosed high blood pressure are told. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure as well as contribute to it. Abstinence, though, might not be necessary, and may even deny some folks a pleasurable way to ward off heart attacks.

A long-term study of male health professionals suggests that responsible, moderate drinking may benefit people with high blood pressure. In a study published in the Jan. 2, 2007, Annals of Internal Medicine, only 4.9% of the men with high blood pressure who classified themselves as moderate drinkers (one or two drinks a day) had a heart attack during 16 years of follow-up, compared with 6.7% of nondrinkers. That's about a 25% reduction in heart attack risk. The results are similar to a study of male doctors, which showed fewer deaths due to cardiovascular disease among moderate drinkers than nondrinkers over a five-year period.

Keep in mind that this work shows the average response to alcohol. How it affects you depends on your genes, metabolism, diet, and medications, as well as your and your family's relationship with alcohol.

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