Combining High Blood Pressure and Binge Drinking Increases Health Risks
The South Korean study, which followed 6,291 residents of Kangwha County age 55 and older from 1985 to 2005, provides evidence for a connection between hypertension and binge drinking that experts say they have long suspected.
When compared to individuals with normal blood pressure, males with high blood pressure that binge drink have almost double the risk of death resulting from a stroke or heart attack, even if they only occasionally binge.
Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of more than five alcoholic drinks within two hours for men, or four or more for women. It is also referred to as heavy episodic drinking.
As men with high blood pressure increase their beverages consumed, they increase their risk for stroke or heart attack. When 12 or more drinks are consumed on one occasion the risk increases to five times over that of a male with normal blood pressure.
American Heart Association spokesman Brian Silver, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says that the binge drinking seems to act as a compounding factor when it comes to high blood pressure.
Conducted at Yonsei University in Seoul, the findings are the result of a study that was not designed to give evidence of a direct causality, but instead used surveys to determine whether there was a connection between the two health problems. The surveys showed that binge drinking was connected with subsequent heart attacks and strokes.
Despite the study’s inability to show causality, J. Chad Teeters, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, says that the findings back up what is already known about the effects of alcohol on blood pressure. Previous studies have shown an increase of 15 to 20 points in blood pressure measurement, and a patient that is already hypertensive could experience significant cardiovascular events.
Men that meet the criteria for severe high blood pressure are at an even higher risk for stroke or heart attack. When these men have six or more drinks on one occasion they have a quadrupled risk of experiencing a deadly cardiovascular event. If males with severe high blood pressure consume 12 or more drinks on one occasion the risk increases to 12 times the normal risk.
Both binge drinking and hypertension act on their own to increase the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. The men enrolled in the study were already twice as likely to experience a deadly stroke or heart attack, even without consuming alcohol. The binge drinkers had the same risk, regardless of whether they had high blood pressure.
The effect of alcohol on the cardiovascular system is unclear, and experts aren’t sure why binge drinking impacts the incidence of cardiovascular events. Some believe that alcohol could worsen the hardening of arteries or provide vulnerable situations for arterial plaques to develop.
One possible limitation to the findings is its location. The rural population included in the study largely consumes soju, a rice wine, and makkoli, a milder rice beverage. The findings may not translate reliably to populations where beer and harder spirits are preferred.
Even if an individual has perfect blood pressure, the risks of binge drinking are clearly not outweighed by any perceived benefit of consuming large amounts of alcohol. These findings illustrate the danger of binge drinking, not only in immediate risks but also long-term health complications.