Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart attacks, kidney damage and stroke. In 2014 – 2015, around 2.6 million Australians reported being hypertensive, a number that is generally considered to be an underestimate. Alcohol consumption is known to be a risk factor for various chronic conditions.
Recommendations for treating hypertension involve both medication and lifestyle modifications like eating a low salt diet, losing weight, increasing physical activity and quitting smoking. Alcohol consumption is also a well-proven risk factor for hypertension, but comparatively less is known about the effects of reducing alcohol intake on blood pressure, and what quantities to reduce to for the best results.
Researchers conducted a systematic review of trials assessing the effect of reducing alcohol intake on blood pressure. The studies varied in length from 1 week to two years. The measure of alcoholic intake was standardised in terms of standard drinks per day to be more applicable to the general population.
No significant effect on blood pressure was observed for people who drank two or fewer drinks per day. However a reduction in consumption for people who drank three or more drinks per day translated to a significant reduction in blood pressure. The strongest effect on blood pressure was observed in people who drank more than six alcoholic drinks per day prior to reducing intake.
The researchers estimated that reducing alcohol in the population would translate to substantial falls in inpatient hospitalisations and heart disease deaths. Current guidelines recommend drinking no more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day. This may be particularly important for people with high blood pressure.