Study Says Even Light Drinking Raises Blood Pressure

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July 31, 2023 -- Light drinking raises a person’s systolic blood pressure—the top number in a blood pressure reading—even if that person doesn’t have hypertension in the first place, concluded a meta-analysis of 19,000 people that was published in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.

Researchers looked at data for 19,000 people involved in seven studies in Japan, South Korea, and the United States that were conducted between 1997 and 2021. None of the people had high blood pressure when they enrolled in the study.

The study found the systolic blood pressure rose 1.25 mm Hg in people who consumed an average of 12 grams of alcohol per day and rose 4.9 mm Hg in people consuming an average of 48 grams of alcohol per day. In the United States, 12 grams of alcohol is considered less than a standard drink, the AHA said in a news release accompanying the study.

The diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure rose in response to drinking, but only in men, going up 1.14 mm Hg when consumption averaged 12 grams daily and 3.1 mm Hg when consumption averaged 48 grams daily. 

“We found no beneficial effects in adults who drank a low level of alcohol compared to those who did not drink alcohol,” said senior study author Marco Vinceti, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and public health in the Medical School of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia University in Italy.

“We were somewhat surprised to see that consuming an already-low level of alcohol was also linked to higher blood pressure changes over time compared to no consumption – although far less than the blood pressure increase seen in heavy drinkers,” said Vinceti, who is also an adjunct professor in the department of epidemiology at Boston University’s School of Public Health. 

Vinceti said alcohol is not the only “driver” of blood pressure increases but “contributes in a meaningful way.” He said limiting alcohol consumption is advised and not drinking at all is even better.