Researchers from the American Heart Association looked at over 10,000 adults and found that even drinking in moderation could lead to blood pressure problems.

Karla Walsh; Reviewed by Lisa Valente M.S., R.D.
September 10, 2020
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Each year, we learn more about how alcohol impacts the body. While the health benefits of moderate drinking have been proven time and time again (and we're fond of sipping a glass of red wine with dinner), doctors certainly aren't giving you a Rx to start drinking if you don't already.

And all of the general alcohol consumption recommendations—up to one drink per day for women and two per day for men, per the latest CDC guidelines—are for healthy adults over 21. So what happens if you have a chronic disease?

In conjunction with the American Heart Association, researchers studied the link between alcohol consumption and blood pressure in more than 10,000 adults with Type 2 diabetes. The American and Canadian participants, who had an average age of 63, were all enrolled in the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) trial, a big trial that's comparing treatment options to limit heart disease risk in adults with Type 2 diabetes. Worth noting: Each participant was selected because he or she was at higher risk for cardiovascular challenges because of related risk factors including one or several of the following issues:

  • Pre-existing cardiovascular disease
  • Some evidence of potential cardiovascular disease
  • Having at least two additional cardiovascular disease risk factors (such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, current smoker, obesity, etc.)

People self-reported their alcohol consumption—so take that into account that there may be slight discrepancies in what people count as one drink (ahem, an Ina-sized cosmo!), but they were told to share their consumption as close as possible to accurate. As a refresher, "one drink" is a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or 1 ½ ounces of hard liquor. They could then rate their consumption as:

  • None
  • Light, or 1 to 7 drinks per week
  • Moderate, or 8 to 14 drinks per week
  • Heavy, or 15 or more drinks per week

The study, which was published yesterday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that drinking moderately—eight or more alcoholic beverages each week—might increase the risk of high blood pressure in adults with Type 2 diabetes.

No or light drinking did not impact blood pressure, while moderate drinking was associated with increased likelihood of elevated blood pressure by 79%. Heavy drinking was linked to increased likelihood of elevated blood pressure by 91%. The more ounces of alcohol the participants sipped over light drinking, the higher their risk and severity appeared to be for high blood pressure.

"Though light to moderate alcohol consumption may have positive effects on cardiovascular health in the general adult population, both moderate and heavy alcohol consumption appear to be independently associated with higher odds of high blood pressure among those with Type 2 diabetes," said senior study author Matthew J. Singleton, M.D., M.B.E., M.H.S., M.Sc., chief electrophysiology fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in a press release. "Lifestyle modification, including tempering alcohol consumption, may be considered in patients with Type 2 diabetes, particularly if they are having trouble controlling their blood pressure."

As a result, the American Heart Association recommends that those with Type 2 diabetes should drink one or no drinks per day. For the general population who don't have Type 2, they suggest consuming booze in moderation, if at all. (And with a designated driver or safely at home, of course.)