OHSU Researchers Confirm Relationship Between Blood Pressure, Alcohol and Genetics

10/17/00    Portland, Ore.

For years physicians have known that chronic alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure. Now researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University have confirmed another important factor in the relationship between alcohol and hypertension - genetics. The research is published the October edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

"The reason why this new research is so important is that high blood pressure has been linked to strokes, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease," said Daniel Hatton, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral neuroscience in OHSU's School of Medicine. "If we can further understand this relationship, then we might have a better chance of understanding who's at risk and how we can treat them."

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 50 million Americans older than 6 suffer from high blood pressure, which also is called hypertension. In 1997 hypertension was the primary or contributing cause of death for 210,000 Americans.

To understand the relationship between genetics, chronic alcohol consumption and hypertension, researchers studied five different strains of mice. All the mice in a given strain were genetically identical, but each strain was genetically different. By observing these mice, researchers were able to determine that one group underwent an increase in blood pressure in response to alcohol consumption. The other strains witnessed a decrease in blood pressure after ingesting the same amount of alcohol during the same period of time.

Because 80 percent of the genetic makeup in mice and humans is identical, scientists believe this same relationship between alcohol, genetics and hypertension can be witnessed in both species.

"The study shows that individuals can respond differently to a given amount of alcohol," said Hatton. "However, it's important to stress that outside of a laboratory setting, many other factors also may influence blood pressure response to alcohol."