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Should Middle-Aged Men Stop Drinking?

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Should men stop drinking alcohol when they reach a certain age? Heavy drinking and age just don’t seem to mix very well, despite the alleged beneficial health effects of taking just a single drink per day.

Now comes news that, for men in their 50s, even high levels of the protective HDL type of cholesterol will not shield them from the ravages of high blood pressure if they are heavy drinkers.

A recent Japanese study of more than 21,000 men suggests that even HDL cholesterol, the so-called “good” cholesterol, does not protect drinkers from high blood pressure once they reach their 50s.

High blood pressure is a known side effect of excessive drinking, but in 20-something drinkers, healthy levels of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, help protect young men from developing high blood pressure due to excessive intake of alcohol. According to the paper, published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, “The blood pressure of middle-aged men is elevated by alcohol drinking independently of blood HDL level and is more sensitive to drinking than is the blood pressure of young men.”

In other words, a man’s blood pressure become more sensitive to alcohol as he ages, regardless of his HDL levels. The research, undertaken at the Hyogo College of Medicine, demonstrated that men of any age cannot escape the likelihood of higher blood pressure if they are moderate to heavy drinkers. But for aging men, the problems are much greater. Even keeping their good cholesterol number high will not protect them from soaring blood pressure, if they continue to drink heavily in their 50s.

While men with the lowest HDL levels consistently showed the lowest blood pressure overall, the finding “fits well with the observation that the risk of stroke—which is more sensitive to blood pressure than heart attack—is not really substantially lower in moderate drinkers,” Dr. Kenneth Mukamal of the Harvard Medical School.

Add to that the likelihood that moderate to heavy drinkers in their 50s are also likely to be cigarette smokers, and more likely to be overweight, and high blood pressure in 50-something men becomes all too easy to understand. The lifestyle changes required to do something about it are as obvious as they are profoundly challenging.

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