Effects of Drinking on Blood Pressure Varied in Young Adults

Moderate alcohol consumption lowered risk for high blood pressure in young women, but binge drinking in young men raised risk


Drinking too much alcohol is known to cause health problems like liver disease and high blood pressure in adults. But a new study found that the effect of drinking on high blood pressure in young people may depend on their gender.

A research team from Boston looked at the effect of alcohol consumption on the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) in young people.

The team found that drinking between the ages of 8 and 14 did not predict future high blood pressure as a young adult.

For men, binge drinking in their 20s was tied to an increased risk for hypertension, the researchers found. In young women, light to moderate drinking in their 20s was tied to a reduced risk for hypertension.

"Binge drinking is well known to raise the risk for hypertension, but this study takes the issue one step further by following its subjects from adolescence to young adulthood," said Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas.

"A sense of invincibility is part of being young, but this study shows us that binge drinking can lead to hypertension, a condition we typically associate with middle age and older," said Dr. Samaan, who was not involved in this study.

"While excessive alcohol can be harmful for so many reasons, alcohol in moderation may relax the blood vessels and have important antioxidant effects. These beneficial consequences of light to moderate alcohol consumption probably explain why it is associated with lower blood pressure in young women. It is also likely that estrogen, the female hormone, plays a protective role," she said.

This research was lead by Sarah A. Twichell, MD, of Boston Children's Hospital.

Dr. Twichell and her team analyzed data from the 1996 Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). The GUTS study included children aged 8 to 14 years old.

Every one or two years, children in the GUTS study completed surveys that included information on drinking patterns, amount consumed and age drinking started.

The research team analyzed the responses of 8,605 participants who completed the survey in 2010. They compared alcohol consumption to the diagnosis of high blood pressure.

Dr. Twichell and her team found that adolescents who drank alcohol did not have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure as young adults in their 20s.

Binge drinking in young adult men, however, was tied to a 1.7-fold increased risk for hypertension — compared to non-drinkers.

In young women, binge drinking was not associated with high blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies binge drinking as drinking several drinks in a short amount of time. For women, this is four or more drinks in two hours. For men, it's five or more drinks in two hours.

The CDC defines heavy drinking in women as eight or more drinks per week. For men, it's 15 drinks per week.

Men who drink two or fewer drinks per day or women who drink one or fewer drinks per day are considered moderate drinkers, according to the CDC.

In fact, light or moderate alcohol use in young adult women was associated with significantly reduced odds of developing hypertension. Women who were light drinkers had a 45 percent decrease, and women who drank moderately had a 62 percent decrease in their odds of developing hypertension as young adults — compared to non-drinkers.

"I generally recommend that my male patients drink no more than 1-2 drinks daily," said Dr. Samaan. "Since more than one drink daily significantly increases a woman's risk for breast cancer, I advise my female patients to limit alcohol to less than one drink per day."

"Further study of alcohol use in early adulthood, particularly among boys who are frequent binge drinkers, may provide insights into the early development of hypertension," Dr. Twichell said in a press release.

The research findings will be presented at American Society of Nephrology's Kidney Week, Nov. 11 to 16 in Philadelphia.