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.