Being aware of how much you drink and drinking within the UK alcohol guidelines can help you to reduce your blood pressure.
There's no safe level of alcohol to drink, however the guidelines state that no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days, places you at a low risk. That's six pints of average-strength beer, or seven glasses of average-strength wine.
Regularly going over these low-risk guidelines can lead to sustained high blood pressure and a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Frequently drinking alcohol may also lead to weight gain, which in turn can increase your blood pressure. There's around seven calories in every gram of alcohol, which is almost same as fat. Alcohol tends to be higher in sugar too, which also increases the calorie content.
In addition, weight gain and stimulants like alcohol increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which can elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, further straining the heart.
You don't have to go teetotal to have optimal blood pressure, but reducing your intake can improve your blood pressure directly (by reducing your stimulant intake) and indirectly (by aiding weight loss).
Reducing your alcohol intake can also help you to reduce your weekly spending. So what you would be spending on alcohol can be used to buy healthier foods (i.e. those lower in salt, sugar and saturated fat), such as fruits and vegetables.
How to calculate your weekly alcohol units
The number of units in a drink is determined by its strength and size. Alcoholic drinks often contain more units than you think and can add up quickly over the week.
Some alcoholic drinks will show the units, which can help you keep track of how much alcohol you consume in a week.
Sometimes drinks will only display the strength as a percentage – this is referred to as ‘alcohol by volume’ (ABV). The higher the percentage of alcohol, the fewer drinks it will take to add up to 14 units.
To work out how many units are in a drink, multiply the volume of the drink in millilitres by its ABV and divide this by 1,000. Alternatively, you can use this handy unit calculator.
Tips for drinking less alcohol
- Check labels when buying alcohol and opt for lower strength drinks
- Weaken drinks by adding soda to wine or having a shandy rather than a pint
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water
- Have several alcohol-free days each week
- Choose bottles and small glasses over pints and large glasses.
Drinkaware has many useful resources to help you track your alcohol intake across the week.
If you feel your alcohol consumption is impacting your life, there are alcohol addiction services that can help you stop or reduce your drinking.
Caffeine is another stimulant, which includes coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks.
Research suggests that caffeine can increase blood pressure and that this increase is greater in those with pre-hypertension and hypertension.
Therefore it's generally advised that you should cut down on your caffeine intake if you have elevated blood pressure.
The guidelines are to consume no more than 400mg of caffeine a day. That's about three or four cups of coffee, but will depend on the strength and type of coffee.
Timing is also important, and although this advice is often unpopular, it's best to consume caffeine in the morning only.
Tips to cut down on caffeine
- Switch to decaffeinated coffee/tea
- Don't consume caffeine after 12pm
- Choose caffeine-free soft drinks
- Choose water or sugar-free squash for hydration over caffeinated drinks
- Use a small mug and make one cup at a time rather than a pot
- Reduce your serving size i.e., one teaspoon of coffee instead of two.
If you're consuming large amounts of caffeine, cut back gradually over two to three weeks. Reducing your caffeine intake too quickly can lead to side effects such as headaches, nausea, irritability, and fatigue.
Other ways to reduce your blood pressure
Aside from cutting down on your alcohol and caffeine, the following lifestyle changes can also help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke:
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Last updated Thursday 5 October 2023
First published on Tuesday 11 July 2023