Alcohol Without Food Boosts Blood Pressure

Before you raise a toast or sip champagne this holiday season, grab a bite to eat.

A new study shows that drinking alcohol without eating raises the chance of developing high blood pressure.

Researchers learned that by studying the food-and-drink habits of more than 2,600 healthy, white adults. Blood pressure was measured three times during the study.

Drinking without eating was a high blood pressure hazard.

Participants who usually imbibed without food were about 1.5 times more likely to have high blood pressure than teetotalers. High blood pressure was at least 140 for systolic blood pressure (the top number) and 90 or more for diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number).

The amount and type of alcohol mattered less than whether it was accompanied by food.

“Drinking outside meals appears to have a significant effect on [high blood pressure] risk independent of the amount of alcohol consumed,” say the researchers in the December issue of the journal Hypertension.

Past research had linked heavy alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. But the new study goes further, providing more details.

For instance, it shows that even light drinkers are more likely to get high blood pressure if they sip without eating. Men and women had similar results, and the type of alcoholic beverage didn’t matter.

Similar conclusions about food, alcohol, and high blood pressure were reached in a recent Italian study. That may mean that the findings surpass cultural differences.

It’s not clear exactly how food and alcohol team up to affect blood pressure. Diet or lifestyle factors could be at work. More studies are needed, but if the findings are confirmed, it could change recommendations about healthy drinking.

Drinking alcohol has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But men should have no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one drink a day to gain this benefit.

If this new research proves true, the recommendations may soon suggest having a snack with that daily drink.

Drinking without food may counteract any benefit to the heart associated with moderate alcohol consumption, says University of Buffalo researcher Saverio Stranges, MD, in a news release.

The study also shows that heavier drinkers (at least two daily drinks) were more likely to have high blood pressure. This may mean that people with high blood pressure should have less than two drinks a day.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Stranges, S. Hypertension, December 2004; vol 44: pp 813-819. News release, University of Buffalo.