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A Little Alcohol Reduces Risk of High Blood Pressure in Women - 2002-03-12

Women who consume a small amount of alcohol daily significantly reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The finding is part of a study published in this week's issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

When it comes to heart disease, a little alcohol is good. But alcohol's benefits to health can quickly evaporate when that small amount increases, according to a new study by Harvard University researchers.

For eight years, study co-author Eric Rimm says investigators followed a group of over 70,000 women enrolled in the large, ongoing Nurses' Health Study. During that time, Professor Rimm says over 4,200 of the women developed high blood pressure.

"Those women that drank about half a drink a day, or three to four drinks per week, had about a 14 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure," he said. "And even women who drank up to a drink per day had lower risk. It wasn't until you got up to above a drink-and-a-half to about two drinks or more where we really saw a significant risk of developing high blood pressure."

Eric Rimm says women who drank more than two drinks per day increased their risk of hypertension by one third.

How alcohol affects blood pressure is unclear, but one theory suggests that small amounts relax the blood vessels, easing blood flow. In larger amounts, it's thought alcohol constricts blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure.

Professor Rimm adds the latest study suggests it doesn't matter whether the alcohol that's being consumed comes from red or white wine, beer or spirits, just so long as it is in moderate amounts to get health benefits.