Teetotaling's Best for Blood Pressure

Even modest amounts of alcohol boost blood pressure in Japanese studies

MONDAY, July 15, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're trying to control your blood pressure, you might want to think twice before you pour your nightly glass of wine.

Two new Japanese studies from the current issue of Alcohol: Clinical Experience and Research, have shown that even modest amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

"Alcohol use represents an important modifiable risk factor for hypertension," says the lead author of the first study, Dr. Noriyuki Nakanishi, from the department of social and environmental medicine at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.

Of Nakanishi's study, Dr. Albert Lowenfels, a professor of community and preventative medicine at New York Medical College, says, "Rather than causing a decrease in blood pressure, it appears that even modest amounts of alcohol cause blood pressure to rise."

Almost one in four Americans has high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet many people don't even know they have the condition because it often has no symptoms. Untreated, hypertension can cause stroke, heart disease and kidney failure, and more than 17,000 people die from complications of the disorder annually.

Hypertension is diagnosed when your health-care provider consistently gets readings over 140/90 mmHg when taking your blood pressure, according to the National Institute on Aging.

The first study followed more than 5,000 Japanese male office workers, between the ages of 23 and 59, for more than four years.

The researchers spilt the group into four categories: people who drank fewer than 12 grams of alcohol a day; those who drank 12 grams to 22 grams per day; those who drank 23 grams to 45 grams per day; and those who drank more than 46 grams per day. Lowenfels says an average bottle of wine has about 80 grams of alcohol, so one glass of wine would probably be around 15 to 20 grams of alcohol.

They found that as the alcohol consumption rate went up, so did blood pressure. The effect was even more pronounced in older men. For example, in the 12 grams to 22 grams per day group, systolic blood pressure (the top number) went up 1.4 points in those between the ages of 25 and 35, but increased by 5.4 points for men between the ages of 48 and 59.

In the second study, researchers from Kyushu University recruited more than 1,100 people over 40 and followed them for 10 years. During that time, 101 men and 106 women developed hypertension. The researchers found the risk of developing hypertension was higher for both men and women who drank, even for those who drank moderate amounts of less than 23 grams daily.

One possible limitation to both studies is the alcohol consumption was self-reported, and experts note people often underestimate what they have consumed.

Also, though the "data looks very compelling," cardiologist Dr. Andrew Hauser says the information from these studies is of greatest value to Japanese people, and he doesn't think there is a need to change the drinking guidelines for the average American.

The studies point out again that not everyone is the same when it comes to their health, he adds. "We tend to make too many generalizations across racial lines in medicine," he adds.

Hauser says that there is a lot of data that shows one or two drinks a day isn't a problem for most Americans, and that such amounts of alcohol may even have some health benefits. However, he wouldn't advise non-drinkers to start drinking for the possible health benefits.

Even Nakanishi says he wouldn't advise light to moderate drinkers to stop, because the risk is lowest for them.

What To Do

Here's more information on ways to lower your blood pressure from the National Institute on Aging and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCES: Noriyuki Nakanishi, M.D., department of social and environmental medicine, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka, Japan; Albert Lowenfels, M.D., professor, surgery, and professor, community and preventative medicine, New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y.; Andrew Hauser, M.D., cardiologist, and director, cardia ultrasound lab; William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Mich.; July 2002 Alcohol: Clinical Experience and Research
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