April 23--Step away from the beer pong table! College binge drinking may leave
you with more than just embarrassing memories and excruciating hangovers.
In a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American College of
Cardiology, researchers found that four years of heavy drinking between the ages
of 18 and 25 may be enough to permanently increase a person's risk of heart
attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.
Researchers at the University of Illinois recruited 38 nonsmoking young adults
and split them into two groups: alcohol abstainers and binge drinkers. To be
considered a binge drinker, participants had to have consumed five or more
servings of alcohol in two hours, at least six times a month, for about four
Study authors then used ultrasound imaging to examine the blood vessels in the
participants' arms when they were given nitroglycerin -- a blood vessel dilator
-- and after blood flow was restricted temporarily and then allowed to run free.
What they found was that abstainers' blood vessels were more elastic and had a
greater ability to dilate than did the vessels of the binge drinkers. This
diminished vascular function could be an early indicator of blood vessel damage
and atherosclerosis, factors that could increase the likelihood of future
cardiovascular problems, authors wrote.
"Regular heavy episodic alcohol use (or "binge drinking") is one of the most
serious public health problems confronting American colleges," wrote lead author
Melissa Goslawski, a researcher in the college's Department of Physical Therapy.
"This study adds to a growing chain of evidence that suggests that, in contrast
to regular and moderate alcohol consumption, binge drinking may be a risk factor
for future cardiovascular disease."
Goslawski and her colleagues noted that the study was limited by its small
sample size. And an editorial that accompanied the piece said it would have been
instructive to include a test group that drank alcohol in moderation.
"Such further study might give us, for the first time, the exact mechanism by
which excess alcohol and binge drinking pattern lead to hypertension," wrote Dr.
Robert Vogel, a cardiologist at the University of Colorado Hospital. "That
discovery would be worth celebrating with a drink."
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