A brand new report on alcohol and blood pressure summarizes the best scientific research and provides a state-of-the-art overview of alcohol’s substantial causal role in the genesis of hypertension and related diseases. Movendi International addresses the potential of alcohol policy to help prevent hypertension and related diseases and suggests three concrete solutions.
March 14, 2023 (Bratislava, Slovakia) – 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.
- 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.
- High blood pressure increases the risk of a number of serious diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.
- Hypertension is a disorder of the circulatory system. It is the single largest threat to health and longevity globally.
- 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
Notes to the editor
More findings from the report
How alcohol affects blood pressure negatively
Alcohol use affects the cardiovascular system negatively in multiple ways.
- The smooth functioning of the endothelium to maintain the capability to dilate the arteries in response to increased blood flow becomes gradually compromised with increased alcohol use, even for low-dose alcohol users and especially for people who consume alcohol heavily.
- Alcohol consumption causes calcification in both aortic and coronary arteries, increasing with level or dose of alcohol use.
- Chronic alcohol use impairs the important feedback system between the autonomic nervous system and the heart. This is an intricate regulatory system, consisting of nervous control of both vascular tone and heart rate.
- Binge alcohol use in adolescence, young adulthood and middle age predicts higher blood pressure at baseline and severalyears later.
Why we know what we know
- Overall, alcohol consumption is a risk factor for high blood pressure. The connection is supported by studies of all types of methods and is most evident for consumption of more than 24 grams of alcohol per day.
- Results from cohort studies and studies with Mendelian randomization suggest that the risk of high blood pressure may increase even with very low consumption.
- There is no evidence that alcohol consumption at any level lowers blood pressure, or protects against high blood pressure, in randomized or cross-over studies.
Other recent findings on alcohol and heart disease
A recent policy brief from the World Heart Federation concluded that alcohol has played a major role in the near-doubling of theglobal prevalence of cardiovascular disease.
About the report
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.
The research group
- Sven Andreasson, senior physician and senior professor of social medicine at the department of global public health, Karolinska Institutet,
- Frida Dangardt, senior physician and researcher at the Children’s Heart Center at Queen Silvia’s Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg,
- Tanya Chikritzhs, PhD in alcohol epidemiology and leader of the alcohol research group at Australia’s National Drug Research Institute, NDRI,
- Tim Stockwell, researcher at, and former director of, the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research in British Columbia, Canada,
- Timothy Naimi, physician and director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research in British Columbia, Canada, and
- Harold Holder, Senior Scientist Emeritus and former Director of the Prevention Research Center (PRC), California.
The disseminating partners
Dissemination of the report are IOGT-NTO, Movendi International, Riksförbundet HjärtLung, Swedish Association for General Medicine, Swedish Nurses Association, CERA, Stiftelsen Ansvar för Framtiden, Actis, Alcohol & Society, Hela människan, SLAN, MA – Rusfri Trafikk, MHF Motorförarnas Helnykterhetsbund , Sweden’s Blue Cross Association, Sweden’s Free Church Council, Swedish Association for Addiction Medicine, and SIGHT.
About Movendi International
With 140+ Member Organization from 50+ countries, Movendi International is the largest independent global social movement for development through alcohol prevention. We unite, strengthen and empower civil society to tackle alcohol as serious obstacle to development on personal, community, societal and global level.