BUFFALO, N.Y. -- During this season to be jolly, when alcohol
flows more freely than usual, a new study alerts drinkers that a
habit of drinking outside of meals may be setting them up for high
Research conducted at the University at Buffalo has shown that
consuming alcohol mostly without food is a significant risk factor
for developing hypertension. The effect was present even in people
with light-to-moderate alcohol intake.
The research also confirmed previous findings showing a positive
relationship between heavy alcohol use and high blood pressure.
Results of the study appear in the December issue of the journal
"These findings support the notion that in addition to amount,
the way in which alcohol is consumed may have important
implications for health and, in particular, for cardiovascular
disease," said lead researcher Saverio Stranges, M.D., research
instructor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in
the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.
The findings were based on blood pressure readings and
self-reported alcohol consumption patterns from a randomly selected
sample of 2,609 white men and women between the ages of 35 and 80
who took part in the Western New York Health Study. All
participants were free of other cardiovascular diseases.
In a computer-assisted, in-person interview, participants
provided data on their alcohol consumption during the past 30 days.
Questions covered how often they drank during that time period,
when they drank (weekdays versus weekends), how much they drank
(drinks per day) and if they drank with meals, with snacks or
without food. They also reported whether they drank mostly beer,
wine or liquor.
Based on responses, participants also were classified as
lifetime abstainers, those who reported having fewer than 12 drinks
in their lifetime or in any one-year period; non-current drinkers,
having more than 12 drinks during their lifetime or in any one
year but no drinks during the past 30 days, and current drinkers,
participants having consumed at least one alcoholic beverage during
the past 30 days.
Current drinkers were divided into categories depending on how
often they drank: less than weekly, weekly non-daily; weekend only;
or weekly daily.
Three blood-pressure readings were taken on each participant by
trained personnel during the interview. The mean of the second and
third reading then were used for the study. Hypertension was
defined by systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or greater or
diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or greater, or by the fact
that an individual was taking medication for high blood
Results confirmed findings of a previous study conducted in
Italy by some of the same investigators and also showed for the
first time that even light to moderate alcohol intake outside of
meals puts drinkers at risk for hypertension.
"This is a novel finding with potentially important clinical
implications," said Stranges. "It points out that drinking without
food may counteract any benefit to the cardiovascular system
associated with moderate alcohol consumption."
Those drinking mostly outside of mealtimes reported a
significant increase in risk of hypertension compared with either
lifetime abstainers or those drinking mostly with food.
Not surprisingly, results confirmed that a high level of alcohol
consumption -- defined as more than two drinks per day -- is
associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. "In
fact," said Stranges, "the average volume of alcohol consumed
during the past 30 days played a much more important role in the
relationship between drinking and high blood pressure than how
often a person drank."
There was no difference in risk based on the type of alcohol
consumed, or the gender of drinkers.
"These findings add new and important information to the
mounting evidence linking drinking pattern to numerous health
outcomes" concluded Stranges.
Additional researchers on the study were, Joan Dorn, Ph.D., Jo
Freudenheim, Ph.D., Paola Muti, M.D., and Maurizio Trevisan, M.D.,
from the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine; Tiejan
Wu, Ph.D., formerly of UB, now at East Tennessee State University,
Johnson City, Tenn.; Eduardo Farinaro, M.D., of "Federico II"
University of Naples Medical School, Naples, Italy; Marcia Russell,
Ph.D., of the Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for
Research and Evaluation, Berkeley, Calif., and Thomas H. Nochajski,
Ph.D., of the UB School of Social Work.
The study was supported in part by a grant from the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.