Blood Pressure and Alcohol: What You Should Know
Drinking alcohol has a significant short and long term impact on blood pressure levels. It’s important to manage your blood pressure to avoid strokes, heart attacks and many other health implications.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of high blood pressure tend to go unnoticed, and many individuals are unknowingly living with the condition. Read below to find out the effects of alcohol on your blood pressure.
Drinking alcohol, above the low-risk guideline of over 14 units per week, is one of the main causes for high blood pressure (hypertension).
Drinking more than three drinks in one sitting will temporarily increase blood pressure levels. Repeated binge drinking will increase blood pressure to sustained and unhealthy levels.
A healthy heart will pump blood around the body steadily and at a low pressure. Drinking alcohol narrows your arteries. When a person develops hypertension from alcohol, the pressure of blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is too high.
When blood pressure is high, the heart has to work overtime to pump harder, ensuring that the arteries can carry the blood flowing through the body under great pressure. The ongoing strain on your heart and arteries increases the likelihood of suffering from a stroke, heart attack, kidney disease and other serious conditions.
Unfortunately, hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because it rarely has noticeable signs or symptoms, yet the negative effects are still occuring within the body. Drinking within the risk guidelines is extremely important to reduce the risk of chronic hypertension.
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To understand how much alcohol falls under the ‘too much’ category, we’ll unpack the definitions of excessive drink for men and women.
Men and women should not exceed 14 units of alcohol per week. It’s also advised to spread the intake across three days or more.
- 14 single measures of spirits | (250ml) 40% ABV
- 6 glasses of wine | (175ml) 13% ABV
- 6 pints of ordinary strength beer/cider/lager | (568ml) 4% ABV
Another way to measure your units is to use the following equation:
|Strength (Alcohol By Volume or ABV) x volume of the drink (in millilitres) ÷ 1,000 = Total number of units in the drink Disclaimer: The drinks you pour at home may be larger than what is served at pubs/bars.|
For decades, there’s been speculation about the supposed health benefits of red wine. Research at Queen’s University in Belfast and Kiel University in Germany suggests that three glasses of red wine a week can help lower blood pressure.
To understand why, we’ll first need to define flavonoids: plant compounds that are rich in antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells against free-radical damage, also known as oxidative stress.
Previous research has shown flavonoids can improve heart health, but researchers said this was the first time they had been able to explain their connection to lower blood pressure.
Despite positive research findings, red wine isn’t a magic cure. If you enjoy it, be sure to limit yourself to moderate amounts. Always speak to your doctor to get the best guidance on the dietary choices that are right for you.
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The best way to control your blood pressure is through a combination of factors, including a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet and prescribed medication. In addition to moderating your alcohol consumption, here are a few ways you can lower high blood pressure:
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration can lower or spike your blood pressure. NHS recommends drinking 6 to 8 cups or glasses (1.5 to 2.5 litres) of fluids per day.
- Cut back on caffeine: Although your daily cup of coffee is associated with health benefits (it’s packed with antioxidants), multiple coffees throughout the day may be doing more harm than good. Caffeine can raise blood pressure after drinking. If you’re having several caffeinated beverages throughout the day, switch some of them to decaf.
- Monitor your blood pressure: Data can help you and your GP understand the factors that influence your blood pressure, such as poor sleep and stress. Atkiia’s 24/7 blood pressure monitor is the easiest way to keep tabs on your numbers without lifting a finger. Just wear the lightweight bracelet, and your readings will automatically populate in an easy-to-use app-no blood pressure cuffs or finger monitors required.
- Exercise: Moderate exercise can strengthen your heart and help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and two or more days a week of strength exercises. Talk to your doctor before you start a new fitness program.
Although some research suggests that red wine can actually support your heart health, it’s important to remember that moderation is key. Men and women should not exceed more than 14 units of alcohol per week. An overall healthy lifestyle is the best way to support your blood pressure. That means staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, and managing your stress levels.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only. If you are concerned about your blood pressure and/or your alcohol intake, speak to your doctor. They can advise on next steps.
6 things you need to know about high blood pressure, 2020 – https://www.bhf.org.uk/medical-6-things-you-need-to-know-about-high-blood-pressure
Microbial Diversity and Abundance of Parabacteroides Mediate the Associations Between Higher Intake of Flavonoid-Rich Foods and Lower Blood Pressure, October, 2021 – https://www.ahajournals.org/doi-pdf-HYPERTENSION
Can red wine lower your blood pressure?, May 25, 2019 – https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news-can-red-wine-lower-your-blood-pressure
Important Flavonoids and Their Role as a Therapeutic Agent, November 2020 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/articles-PMC7697716
NHS, The Eatwell Guide, November 29, 2022 – https://www.nhs.uk/food-guidelines-and-food-labels-the-eatwell-guide
Keeping Active Guidelines, January 6, 2023 – https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/keeping-active/keeping-active-guidelines