Lifestyle modifications to prevent and control hypertension. 3. Recommendations on alcohol consumption. Canadian Hypertension Society, Canadian Coalition for High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control, Laboratory Centre for Disease Control at Health Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

N R Campbell, M J Ashley, S G Carruthers, Y Lacourcière, D W McKay
Canadian Medical Association Journal: CMAJ 1999 May 4, 160 (9): S13-20

OBJECTIVE: To provide updated, evidence-based recommendations concerning the effects of alcohol consumption on the prevention and control of hypertension in otherwise healthy adults (except pregnant women).

OPTIONS: There are 2 main options for those at risk for hypertension: avert the condition by limiting alcohol consumption or by using other nonpharmacologic methods, or maintain or increase the risk of hypertension by making no change in alcohol consumption. The options for those who already have hypertension include decreasing alcohol consumption or using another nonpharmacologic method to reduce hypertension; commencing, continuing or intensifying antihypertensive medication; or taking no action and remaining at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

OUTCOMES: The health outcomes considered were changes in blood pressure and in morbidity and mortality rates. Because of insufficient evidence, no economic outcomes were considered.

EVIDENCE: A MEDLINE search was conducted for the period 1966-1996 with the terms ethyl alcohol and hypertension. Other relevant evidence was obtained from the reference lists of articles identified, from the personal files of the authors and through contacts with experts. The articles were reviewed, classified according to study design, and graded according to the level of evidence.

VALUES: A high value was placed on the avoidance of cardiovascular morbidity and premature death caused by untreated hypertension.

BENEFITS, HARMS AND COSTS: A reduction in alcohol consumption from more than 2 standard drinks per day reduces the blood pressure of both hypertensive and normotensive people. The lowest overall mortality rates in observational studies were associated with drinking habits that were within these guidelines. Side effects and costs were not measured in any of the studies.

RECOMMENDATIONS: (1) It is recommended that health care professionals determine how much alcohol their patients consume. (2) To reduce blood pressure in the population at large, it is recommended that alcohol consumption be in accordance with Canadian low-risk drinking guidelines (i.e., healthy adults who choose to drink should limit alcohol consumption to 2 or fewer standard drinks per day, with consumption not exceeding 14 standard drinks per week for men and 9 standard drinks per week for women). (3) Hypertensive patients should also be advised to limit alcohol consumption to the levels set out in the Canadian low-risk drinking guidelines.

VALIDATION: These recommendations are similar to those of the World Hypertension League, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on Primary Prevention of Hypertension and the previous recommendations of the Canadian Coalition for High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control and the Canadian Hypertension Society. They have not been clinically tested. The low-risk drinking guidelines are those of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

SPONSORS: The Canadian Hypertension Society, the Canadian Coalition for High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control, the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control at Health Canada, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The low-risk drinking guidelines have been endorsed by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and several provincial organizations.

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