It's well known that alcohol can raise blood pressure,blood pressure, but it's been unclear if different types of alcohol have the same effect, says Renate R. Zilkens, PhD, research fellow in the School of Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Western Australia.
Red Wine vs. Beer
Zilkens and colleagues wanted to see if the antioxidant chemicals in red winered wine could offset some of the blood pressure effects of alcohol. So they compared it with beer.
The researchers divided 24 healthy men into four different groups for four weeks:
- Some men drank no wine or beer and served as a comparison group
- Some men drank 13 ounces of red wine daily
- Some men drank 13 ounces of red wine with the alcohol removed to see if the alcohol accounted for any blood pressure effect
- Some men drank 38 ounces of beer daily (just over three beers)
The men made no other changes in their lifestyle other than limiting tea to less than 2 cups a day (since tea can also raise blood pressure) and avoiding antioxidants (to avoid any potential effect on blood vessels).
The men wore blood pressure and heart rate monitors 24 hours a day.
Blood Pressure, Heart Rate Climb
Compared with the men who did not drink any alcohol, the red wine drinkers had a nearly a 2.5 point jump in their systolic blood pressure. Beer drinkers' blood pressure rose nearly two points.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number of a blood pressure reading. It measures the pressure in blood vessels when the heart pumps.
While this doesn't sound like much, even a few points can make a difference in people who have borderline or high blood pressure. Ideally, blood pressure should be less than 120/80. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90 is called prehypertension.prehypertension.
Heart rate also rose. The researchers tested heart rate during sleep to rule out any effect of activity. Red wine drinkers' heart rate climbed five points for eight to 10 hours after drinking. Beer drinkers' heart rate rose four points.
Removing alcohol from the red wine did not lower the blood pressure.
The researchers say that the blood pressure effects of red wine and beer appear to be similar.
Since the men in the study did not have high blood pressure, it's unclear how these findings apply to people who do. The study appears in the new issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.
So how is alcohol good for your heart if it raises blood pressure? It's a delicate balance, say researchers.
Men should drink less than two drinks per day, Zilkens says in a news release. Women should have no more than one drink a day because they are more sensitive to the potential damaging effects of alcohol due to body size and metabolism.
Zilkens says at recommended alcohol levels men and women will still benefit from heart-protective effects of alcohol. Men in the current study drank more than the amount recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).
One drink equals a 5 ounce glass of wine, a 12 ounce beer, or 1 ounce of liquor.
Alcohol's Heart-Healthy Benefits
Heart-healthy benefits of alcohol include:
- Raises HDL "good" cholesterol that helps reduce the risk of heart disease
- Helps decrease risk of blood clots (heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood clots)
The AHA says people who do not already drink alcohol should not start since there is no way to know who may become dependent on alcohol.