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Alcohol and Hypertension During COVID-19

April 24, 2020
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Alcohol and Blood Pressure During COVID-19

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If you have high blood pressure, your doctor likely recommends weight loss, exercise, and healthy eating may be among your most important doctor's orders for managing blood pressure. Making these healthy lifestyle choices, plus taking hypertension medications as prescribed and monitoring blood pressure, can help keep blood pressure under control, but COVID-19 may put a damper on efforts to make healthy choices.

The pandemic, which has upended so many aspects of pre-pandemic life, has made it difficult for many people to hit health goals, as gyms may be closed or feel unsafe to use, food may be too close for comfort when staying at home so much, and stress may cause anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty following intended healthy behaviors. 

None of those changes are good for hypertension management, and there is another trend that may add fuel to the fire: home alcohol consumption has increased during COVID-19. It is up by 5 to 10%, and drinking while working from home has become far from uncommon [1].

Too much alcohol can be harmful for anyone, and it can be especially troublesome for people with high blood pressure.

Alcohol and Hypertension

The effects of alcohol on blood pressure are not completely clear. Excessive drinking is clearly bad for blood pressure. Having a small amount of alcohol may lower blood pressure by a couple of points among some people, but the evidence is still not clear, and it is possible that alcohol raises blood pressure for some people. 

Alcohol consumption can be more dangerous if you are on antihypertensive medications. Alcohol interacts with common antihypertensives, such as alpha blockers and beta blockers. The results can include dangerously low blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting. If you are on diuretics, the risk of dehydration increases with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol and Heart Health

Optimistic red wine-lovers may point to studies suggesting that a moderate amount of red wine may be good for the heart. Red wine can increase "good" HDL cholesterol and reduce blood clots, which are linked to stroke and heart attacks. Drinking more than that amount is likely to lead to more health risks than gains. 

The benefits of red wine are largely due to resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes, and white wine and other alcoholic beverages do not have such benefits. If you want resveratrol without alcohol, non-alcoholic red wine as well as grapes peanuts, cocoa, and some types of berries are options.

Alcohol, COVID-19, and Weight Gain

If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can lower blood pressure. In fact, losing about 5 kg. (11 lb.) can lower systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg. The effects COVID-19 pandemic can make weight loss more difficult if it is harder to get in a workout or stress or boredom eating has increased. 

Alcohol consumption can also lead to weight gain for many reasons

  • Alcohol has calories, say, 100 to 200 per drink.
  • People are likely to eat high-calorie foods while drinking.
  • Alcohol can lead to feelings of hunger after drinking although the body does not need those calories.
  • Low blood sugar from alcohol may lead to carb and sugar cravings.

Home Alcohol Trends During COVID-19

Why are people drinking more at home? In part, it is likely because there is nowhere else to go. Bars and restaurants may be closed or perceived as risky places for spreading COVID-19, so social drinking may move to the home using video chats to connect. In addition, workplaces are closed, and happy hours may be taking place at home, too.

Stress and anxiety may be leading to home drinking. In addition, people may choose to drink while working from home - but keep in mind that employers may have alcohol use policies and employees can easily get caught.

Bucking the Trend

Why let alcohol and a pandemic get in the way of so much hard work to lose weight and manage blood pressure? These are some strategies for reducing alcohol use at home.

  • Finding something else to do when the urge to drink happens.
  • Building and using a social support system.
  • Keeping alcohol out of the home.
  • Setting a daily maximum of 1 drink (women) or 2 drinks (men).

Professional help may be necessary if drinking is interfering with daily life, is out of your control, or is otherwise becoming a problem.

Safe(r) Drinking with Hypertension

If you are intent on having the occasional drink, safety precautions are essential if you have high blood pressure. If you choose to drink, the maximum recommended amount is 1 (women) or 2 (men) drinks per day. Here are some tips for safer drinking.

  • Never drive while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach. Having a light snack or meal before having a drink can slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, as can drinking slowly. 
  • Turn to lower-carb, nutritious foods, such as yogurt, chicken, and salads to eat while drinking alcohol, instead of higher-carb foods. This can help limit calorie consumption and keep down carb cravings later. 
  • Drinking plenty of water while drinking alcohol can help prevent dehydration and reduce alcohol-induced feelings of hunger.

The risks of alcohol are likely to outweigh the benefits of drinking, but there are safer ways to drink if you do choose to drink. Keeping it under control and limiting extra calories can help you stay on track with weight loss and your healthy lifestyle for managing hypertension.

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