Does Alcohol Raise Blood Pressure?

Alcohol consumption may cause hypertension
Yep. Let's get into it!

Alcohol (Ethanol / EtOH) consumption is a common practice among adults worldwide. While it can be enjoyed in moderation, excessive consumption can lead to negative health consequences, including high blood pressure. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms by which alcohol affects blood pressure and why it is bad for one's health.

When an individual consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. The alcohol then travels to the liver, where it is metabolized into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that can damage cells and tissues. The liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol per hour, which is typically about one standard drink. The amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies depending on the type of alcohol. In the United States, a standard drink is defined as:

    12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters) of beer with 5% alcohol content
    5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters) of wine with 12% alcohol content
    1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits (such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey) with 40% alcohol content.

Acute Effects of Alcohol on Blood Pressure

The acute effects of alcohol on blood pressure are well-documented. Consuming more than three drinks within a two-hour period can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure.

This happens because alcohol consumption causes the body to release nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes and widens blood vessels. Nitric oxide is produced by the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels and is responsible for regulating blood flow by dilating blood vessels. In small amounts, nitric oxide can improve blood flow and decrease blood pressure.

However, excessive alcohol consumption can have the opposite effect on blood pressure. While alcohol initially causes blood vessels to dilate and lowers blood pressure, the effect is only temporary. The body compensates for the temporary drop in blood pressure by constricting blood vessels and increasing heart rate, leading to an overall increase in blood pressure.

In addition to nitric oxide, alcohol consumption can also affect other chemicals in the body that regulate blood pressure. For example, alcohol can increase the production of epinephrine, a hormone that constricts blood vessels and increases heart rate, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Additionally, alcohol can cause dehydration, which can further increase blood pressure. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. When we drink alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and processed by the liver. As the alcohol circulates through the body, it interferes with the production of a hormone called vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH).

Vasopressin is produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland in response to changes in blood volume or pressure. It acts on the kidneys, where it signals the kidneys to reabsorb water into the body, reducing the amount of urine produced. Alcohol interferes with this process by inhibiting the release of vasopressin, leading to increased urine production.

As a result, when we drink alcohol, we lose more water through urine than we would normally, leading to dehydration. Additionally, alcohol can also cause us to sweat more, leading to further fluid loss and dehydration.

Dehydration can have a range of negative effects on the body, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and dry mouth. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalances, seizures, and even coma.

To avoid dehydration when drinking alcohol, it is important to drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages throughout the night.

Chronic Effects of Alcohol on Blood Pressure

The chronic effects of alcohol on blood pressure are more concerning than the acute effects. Long-term alcohol consumption has been associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The exact mechanism by which alcohol causes hypertension is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to the following factors:

  • Increased sympathetic nervous system activity: Alcohol consumption can increase sympathetic nervous system activity, which controls the body's fight-or-flight response. This can cause an increase in heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, and an increase in blood pressure.

  • Damage to blood vessels: Alcohol can damage blood vessels in several ways, which can have negative consequences for overall health. Some of the ways in which alcohol can damage blood vessels include:

    • Inflammation: Alcohol can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, leading to swelling, stiffness, and reduced blood flow. Inflammation can also contribute to the development of conditions such as atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up inside the blood vessels and restrict blood flow.

    • Oxidative stress: Alcohol consumption can increase oxidative stress in the body, which is a process that damages cells by producing free radicals. Oxidative stress can damage the walls of blood vessels, leading to reduced elasticity and an increased risk of ruptures or other types of damage.

    • Increased blood pressure: As mentioned previously, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which can cause damage to blood vessels over time. High blood pressure puts extra strain on the walls of blood vessels, making them more susceptible to damage and increasing the risk of conditions such as stroke or heart attack.

    • Thrombosis: Alcohol can also increase the risk of blood clots, which can block blood vessels and restrict blood flow. This can lead to conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism, which can be life-threatening.

  • Weight gain: Regular alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, which is also a risk factor for hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Excess weight puts additional strain on the heart, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Unfortunately your frequently trips to the local brewery are leaving you with higher blood pressure. (I'm speaking from experience here of course)