Older men’s blood pressure sensitive to alcohol

Regular drinking is known to raise blood pressure in some people, but the effect may depend largely on age and cholesterol levels, a study of Japanese men suggests.

The study found that unlike younger men, men in their 50s who drank even moderate amounts of alcohol generally had higher blood pressure than non-drinkers. Among men in their 20s, only heavy drinkers showed elevated blood pressure, and even then the effect depended on a man’s levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

In contrast, HDL levels had no bearing on the blood-pressure effects of alcohol in older men.

The findings suggest that older men’s blood pressure is more sensitive to the effects of drinking, according to study author Dr. Ichiro Wakabayashi, of Hyogo College of Medicine in Japan.

Still, that doesn’t mean that older men should universally abstain from alcohol, Wakabayashi told Reuters Health. Though drinking can boost blood pressure, moderate amounts of alcohol also have heart-protecting effects, he explained.

Besides raising heart-healthy HDL levels, modest drinking may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and inhibit blood clotting. In addition, numerous studies have linked moderate alcohol intake to a lower risk of developing heart disease.

However, Wakabayashi said, older drinkers who see none of the HDL benefits, but do have higher-than-normal blood pressure, may want to cut back.

For the study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Wakabayashi used data from more than 21,000 men in their 20s and 50s who underwent periodic workplace health exams. As part of their checkups, the men reported on their average weekly drinking habits.

Those who drank less than 30 grams of alcohol per day - roughly equivalent to three drinks - were considered light-to-moderate drinkers. Men who drank more than that were considered heavy drinkers.

In general, young men who drank heavily had higher blood pressure than their peers who drank moderately or not at all. This effect was only seen among young men with average or high HDL levels, however; drinking had no apparent effect on blood pressure among those with low HDL.

On the other hand, drinkers in their 50s tended to have a higher blood pressure - and a higher risk of overt hypertension - than non-drinkers. The effect was seen even among men who drank moderately, and HDL levels showed no influence, Wakabayashi found.

All of this, according to the researcher, suggests that older men are typically more sensitive to alcohol’s blood-pressure effects than younger men are - possibly because of age-related changes in the nervous system’s response to drinking.

For some men, Wakabayashi noted, any HDL benefits may be “weak” in comparison to the negative effects on blood pressure.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, September 2007.

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