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Alcohol and High Blood Pressure
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
Monday, January 07, 2008

The problem with alcohol, from the point of view of high blood pressure, is that eventually its effects wear off. That may sound a little strange at first but it's true. Alcohol is a relaxant. It tends to suppress the nervous system, the cardiovascular system—and when you stop drinking the relaxant effect wears off and your blood pressure rises. And it may overshoot. It may rise distinctly above your baseline—in fact it often does.

The most extreme example of this occurs with the severe alcoholic withdrawal symptom called delirium tremens (or DTs), when the blood pressure may go very, very high.

So when you withdraw from alcohol, while you're sleeping it off, and when you're stumbling around the next morning looking for coffee, what's happening inside you is that your ENS is turning on. And the whole thing may backfire on you. If you drink quite a bit over the weekend, your blood pressure will be higher on Monday morning than it would have been if you hadn't been drinking. That's basically the problem.

I don't really want to go into the issue of whether or not you should be drinking at all. Obviously, drinking in excessive amounts is injurious to your heart and brain as well as your liver and kidneys.

There is some interesting evidence, though, that people who drink in moderation, maybe one glass of wine or beer a day (or several times a week), develop less cardiovascular disease than complete teetotalers. And this may have something to do with the fact that alcohol stimulates the liver to make a protein called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which grabs onto cholesterol in the arteries and brings it back to the liver to be flushed out of the body. So drinking in small, regular quantities may actually have some benefit for people with high Coronary Artery Disease Risk Profiles. Check with your doctor. I'm not recommending this. I just want you to be informed.

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