alcohol and high blood pressure

Study shows that even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with high blood pressure, especially in patients with diabetes mellitus.

Heavy alcohol consumption and its link to high blood pressure has been studied for a long time with early studies dating back to 1915. However, there have been conflicting reports on the risks and benefits of light and moderate drinking. Some studies have shown that compared to abstainers, those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have improved cardiovascular outcomes. These results have even led to recommendations of light or moderate alcohol consumption to prevent cardiovascular disease.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure amongst adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus. The study findings indicate that as the consumption of alcohol increases, the severity of high blood pressure in adults with diabetes also increases.

The results of the study showed that while light drinking (defined as 1-7 drinks per week) was not associated with high blood pressure, moderate drinking (defined as 8 -14 drinks per week) increased the odds of elevated blood pressure (120-129/<80 mm Hg) by 79%. The odds of participants, who indulged in moderate alcohol consumption, exhibiting Stage 1 high blood pressure (130-139/80-89 mm Hg) was increased by 66% and Stage 2 high blood pressure (140 / 90 mm Hg or higher) was increased by 62%.  Heavy drinking (15 or more drinks per week) was a significantly strong risk factor for high blood pressure and increased the odds of elevated blood pressure by 91%, Stage 1 high blood pressure by 149%, and Stage 2 high blood pressure by 204%.

This study was part of the ACCORD (Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes) trial, which is one of the largest and long-term trials to investigate different treatment options to reduce risk of heart disease in diabetes patients and included over 10,000 participants. The average age of the participants was 63 years with over 60% male participants. All of the participants had type 2 diabetes for over 10 years and were at risk for potential heart disease due to factors like smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

As senior study author Dr. Matthew j. Singleton explained, “People with type 2 diabetes are at higher cardiovascular risk, and our findings indicate that alcohol consumption is associated with hypertension (high blood pressure), so limited drinking is recommended.”

The strengths of the study include the large number of study participants and the focus on patients with diabetes. As Dr. Singleton remarked, “This is the first large study to specifically investigate the association of alcohol intake and hypertension among adults with type 2 diabetes.” The study is however, limited by the fact that alcohol consumption was measured by a one-time self-reported survey by participants and the study design did not allow for any assessments of any potential benefits of having a single drink a day.

This study clearly shows that even moderate drinking can increase the risk of high blood pressure in adults with type 2 diabetes. These patients are already at higher risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that even the general population should limit their alcohol consumption and drinkers should be cognisant of the effects of drinking on their health.

Written by Bhavana Achary, Ph.D


Original study: Mayl JJ, German CA, Bertoni AG, Upadhya B, Bhave PD, Yeboah J, Singleton MJ. Association of Alcohol Intake With Hypertension in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: The ACCORD Trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Sep 15;9(18):e017334.

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