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Women's Blood Pressure Drops with 3 Drinks a Week

Mon Mar 11, 2002

By Melissa Schorr

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A few drinks a week may slightly reduce a woman's chance of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension, but consuming more than a drink a day puts her at increased risk, Harvard researchers report.

"Women who drink on average about 3 drinks a week had a 15% reduced risk of developing chronic hypertension, but women who drank 10 to 12 drinks a week had a 30% increased risk of developing chronic hypertension," lead author Dr. Ravi Thadhani, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (news - web sites) in Boston, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health.

The researchers looked at alcohol intake and subsequent high blood pressure reported by more than 70,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term study following the health of more than 100,000 women.

"It's known that alcohol consumption in excess can lead to increased risk in heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure, but what is not known is the effect at light to moderate levels," Thadhani said. "What we were hoping to do was look at how alcohol affects blood pressure in young women ages 20 to 40."

The researchers followed the women for 8 years to see whether they developed hypertension, taking into account other factors known to be associated with high blood pressure, such as weight, physical activity, age, smoking and the use of oral contraceptives. The findings are published in the March 11th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers found that women who reported drinking around half a drink a day, or three drinks on average each week, had a 15% lower chance of developing chronic high blood pressure than women who abstained from drinking altogether.

By contrast, women who drank more than 1.5 drinks a day, or more than 10 drinks weekly, had a 30% increased chance of developing chronic high blood pressure.

Thadhani noted that moderate amounts of alcohol may relax blood vessels, thus reducing the chance of developing high blood pressure, while high levels of alcohol may injure those vessels, boosting high blood pressure risk.

The investigators also examined whether the type of alcohol consumed made a difference. They found that the higher consumption of beer, wine and hard liquor seemed equally harmful. Light beer drinking seemed to be the most beneficial form of alcohol in reducing the risk of high blood pressure, although these preliminary findings need to be confirmed in other studies.

Thadhani noted that the ability to reduce the risk of hypertension even by 15% is significant, because it is one of the few risk factors for high blood pressure, unlike family history, that are under a woman's control.

"Whether or not to drink is a personal choice," he said. "Women who already choose to drink should know there are potential health benefits to doing so for their high blood pressure."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine 2002;162:569-574.

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