Can Having One Drink A Day Affect Your Health?

By Maggie Ethridge 03/14/19

A new study investigated the connection between moderate drinking and hypertension.

woman having a drink

It’s long been suggested by studies that moderate alcohol consumption can be good for the heart—but a new study finds otherwise.

Dr. Amer Aladin, a cardiovascular medicine fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Health, led the study which looked at over 17,000 American adults' medical records. They found a correlation between as little as one drink a day and increased risk for hypertension, or high blood pressure—a know risk factor for heart attack.

The increased risk for hypertension was two-fold for moderate drinkers, the research showed. The study defined Stage 1 hypertension as a systolic top blood pressure reading of 130 to 139 mmHg and a diastolic bottom reading of 80 to 90 mmHg. Stage 2 hypertension was defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg or higher and a diastolic reading of 90 mmHg or more.

"I think this will be a turning point for clinical practice, as well as for future research, education and public health policy regarding alcohol consumption," study author Dr. Aladin told NBC News. "[This is] the first study showing that both heavy and moderate alcohol consumption can increase hypertension," he said.

It is important to note that because the study was observational, it can only show a correlation between drinking and hypertension—it does not prove cause and effect. 

The Wake Forest researchers, led by Dr. Aladin, looked at the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), a decades-long study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This data included 17,059 U.S. adults who signed on to NHANES between 1988 and 1994.

The five groups included abstainers; former drinkers; those who consumed one to six drinks a week; those who consumed seven to 13 drinks a week; and heavy drinkers who consumed 14 or more drinks a week.

Factors taken into account were age, sex, race, smoking status, physical activity BMI, cholesterol, and diabetes. Comparing moderate drinkers with non-drinkers, the drinkers were 1.5 times more likely to develop stage 1 hypertension and twice as likely to develop stage 2 hypertension. Heavy drinkers were 2.5 times more likely than non-drinkers to develop severe hypertension.

Dr. Marcin Kowalski directs cardiac electrophysiology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. He told Health24 that the study "gives us more insight to the negative effect of alcohol on the cardiovascular system." He added that Americans drink too much and "should be encouraged in the general population and especially in patients at higher risk for developing hypertension".

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.