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  • Lauri Beekmann

Even Small Amounts of Alcohol Can Be Harmful to Blood Pressure and the Heart

15.03.2023 - A groundbreaking new report on the link between alcohol, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease shows only negative effects of alcohol consumption on ischemic heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. 

Alcohol is a significant contributing cause of hypertension. Hypertension itself is the leading cause of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

The evidence is strong that alcohol use leads directly to elevated blood pressure in the short-term and hypertension in the longerterm without any safe level or protective effects.

  1. When people consume alcohol, mechanisms such as stiffness in arteries and increased wall thickness in blood vessels are strengthened, which lead to high blood pressure.

  2. High blood pressure increases the risk of a number of serious diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

  3. Hypertension is a disorder of the circulatory system. It is the single largest threat to health and longevity globally.

  4. Hypertension is responsible for 10.8 million or 19.2% of deaths worldwide in 2019, largely due to various forms of cardiovascular disease.

The report synthesises the best research available. More and more studies with stronger methodology show only negative effects of alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases the risk of ischemic heart disease, ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke, and atrial fibrilation. For example, estimates show that for every additional 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day, risk of atrial fibrillation increases by 8%.

Alcohol is also a significant underlying cause of cardiomyopathy deaths.

Combining mortality data across 103 countries, researchers estimated that alcohol caused about 5.6% of cardiomyopathy deaths. 

However, in countries where heavy alcohol use is highly prevalent, alcohol may be an underlying cause for more than 60% of all cardiomyopathy deaths.

In the past, it was believed that low-dose alcohol use could protect against cardiovascular disease. 

The new report is clear: There is no safe or reduced risk level of alcohol use concerning risk of hypertension in the longer term and this risk begins to escalate with increased consumption from even a low or moderate level.

"Alcohol's role as contributing cause of hypertension has been neglected for too long," says Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International.

"This new report illustrates the urgency and potential of addressing alcohol's role in hypertension and related heart diseases. The most cost-effective means of reducing hypertension and related health harms in a population are policies which reduce risk factors, such as overall population alcohol consumption."

- Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

The role of alcohol as a contributing cause of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease is not well known by the public, by health care professionals or by decision makers. The report also shows that alcohol is seen by healthcare personnel as less important than physical activity, eating habits and smoking in preventing high blood pressure and other diseases.

"High blood pressure is the single biggest preventable risk factor for disease and death in the world today, and alcohol's contribution to high blood pressure is one of many overlooked factors," says Frida Dangardt, senior physician and researcher at the Children's Heart Center at Drottning Silvia's Children's Hospital in Gothenburg, who is one of the authors of the report.

"If we can increase awareness of this connection among both the general public and within the health care system, much will be gained."

- Frida Dangardt, senior physician and researcher at the Children's Heart Center at Drottning Silvia's Children's Hospital in Gothenburg

The researchers conclude that the most cost-effective way to reduce the incidence of high blood pressure, and the diseases that high blood pressure causes, is to introduce measures that reduce alcohol consumption in the population. Alcohol policy measures, such as higher alcohol tax and reduced availability of alcohol, are effective ways to keep alcohol consumption down and thereby reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

"The health, economic, and social burden of hypertension caused by alcohol is huge. But this harm is preventable," says Kristina Sperkova.

"Alcohol policy solutions are highly effective in helping to reduce the hypertension burden. Already small reductions in average blood pressure levels can translate into substantial reductions in related morbidity and mortality in our societies.

"We call on our governments to use alcohol taxation to raise alcohol prices, to limit the physical presence of alcohol in our communities, and to increase public recognition of the real harm from alcohol, for example through banning alcohol avertising and placing warning labels about cancer and heart disease on alcohol products.

- Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

Read the full REPORT (March 2023)

A international group of esteemed researchers comes together every year to dive deeply into a specific topic of alcohol research.

First, the scientists conduct extensive research to identify relevant published science on the selected topic, such as alcohol and blood pressure. 

Then, the group reviews and summarizes the search results. They are subsequently published in a report. 

This year the report deals with alcohol and blood pressure – a topic of specific public interest due to the high health and mortality burden of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, and due to pervasive misconcpetions and myths about alcohol’s role in heart disease.

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