This Is the Worst Alcohol for High Blood Pressure, According to Cardiologists

Updated: Jun. 10, 2024

Experts reveal how a sip too many might tip the scales on your heart health.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a stealthy yet significant health challenge faced by almost half the adult population in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 120 million American adults are battling this “silent killer”, but alarmingly, only a quarter are managing it effectively. One key lifestyle factor you might not realize is impacting your blood pressure is alcohol consumption. If you like a cold beer after work or a glass of wine before bed, your habit might cause some major unintended consequences for your heart health—so we asked expert doctors to share the worst alcohol for high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association (AHA) classifies stage 1 high blood pressure with systolic readings (the top number) ranging from 130-139 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or diastolic readings (the bottom number) from 80-89 mmHg. If your systolic reading consistently tips over 140 or your diastolic reading surpasses 90 mmHg, you’re considered to have stage 2 hypertension. Understanding these numbers is all the more critical, as they indicate when to take proactive steps to control blood pressure and maintain overall health.

When it comes to alcohol and high blood pressure, a 2023 study published in the AHA’s journal, Hypertension, found that an average daily consumption of 12 grams of alcohol can increase systolic blood pressure by 1.25 mmHg. This rise can reach up to 4.9 mmHg with an intake of 48 grams daily, particularly in men. To put it in perspective, in the US, a 12 ounce beer, a five ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of distilled spirits contains about 14 grams of alcohol.

As social gatherings and holiday celebrations frequently feature festive beverages, it can be challenging to avoid drinking entirely. To help navigate these occasions, we’ve sought advice from expert doctors on which types of alcohol you should avoid if you’re trying to protect your heart health.

The worst alcohol for high blood pressure

Steven Nissen, MD, a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic, points out that increasing blood pressure, even in small amounts, increases the risk of stroke. “I do think we need to communicate clearly to the public that alcohol is not beneficial—that a little bit of alcohol is probably not harmful, but don’t expect benefits,” Dr. Nissen explains.

Samuel Mathis, MD, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), explains that alcohol raises blood pressure by increasing renin—a protein that constricts arteries—and decreasing nitrous oxide, which is a compound that relaxes them.

Dr. Mathis also identifies the specific types of alcoholic beverages that are particularly problematic for individuals with high blood pressure. Drinks with added sugars, such as those mixed with soda, dessert cocktails, margaritas, and high-alcohol content drinks like Manhattans or dirty martinis, can exacerbate the blood pressure-raising effects of alcohol. However, he notes that the amount of alcohol consumed is more influential than the type of drink.

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A note on binge drinking

Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, explains that consuming more than three drinks in a single sitting can temporarily increase blood pressure. More concerning, regular binge drinking—defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more for men—can lead to long-term increases in blood pressure. Dr. Lopez-Jimenez notes that heavy drinkers can see substantial health improvements by reducing their alcohol intake to moderate levels. Such a change can decrease systolic blood pressure by about 5.5 mmHg and diastolic pressure by around four mmHg.

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