Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Is alcohol helpful or harmful to blood pressure?
A: The most important lifestyle influences on keeping a healthy blood pressure are weight control, regular exercise, limiting sodium consumption from salt and (especially) from processed food, and getting enough potassium (mostly by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits). Blood pressure control is usually not disrupted by alcohol consumption within moderation – no more than one standard drink a day for women and no more than two standard drinks a day for men. However, people vary in how they respond, so discuss this with your physician, especially if you already have high blood pressure, or if you have a family history or other risk factors. Modest alcohol consumption is linked with lower overall heart disease risk, but amounts beyond two drinks a day raise risk. Besides, limiting alcohol consumption also is recommended to lower risk of cancer. That’s because alcohol increases circulating levels of estrogen (posing risk for breast cancer) and as it is metabolized, alcohol produces a compound (acetaldehyde) identified as a carcinogen and produces free radicals that can damage DNA. Bottom line: if your doctor identifies it as safe for you, blood pressure concerns need not keep you from alcohol in limited to moderate amounts, but don’t turn to alcohol to promote health when you have so many options that can promote multiple aspects of health.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.