Getting Smashed: A Real Heart Breaker

Binge drinking might increase the risk for heart disease later in life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) In college, some young adults might feel invincible. But risky behaviors like binge drinking may disrupt a young adult’s blood flow and put him or her at risk for heart disease later in life.

In a recent study, researchers ran a series of heart health tests on a group of college students.

The results showed that students who engaged in binge drinking had reduced blood flow comparable to people who had been daily, heavy drinkers for nearly a decade.

"Avoid binge drinking."

Melissa Goslawski, MS, Shane A. Phillips, PT, PhD, and Mariann R. Piano, PhD, RN, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, worked together to investigate whether binge drinking could have an effect on heart function.

“Binge drinking rates are highest on college campuses and among 18- to 25-year-olds," the authors said in their study.

"[Binge drinking] is one of the most serious public health problems confronting American colleges,” they wrote.

Binge drinking was defined as males having five or more servings of alcohol or females having four or more servings in two hours.

The authors estimated that more than half of college students who drink participate in binge drinking behavior.

Previous studies done with older adults have suggested that binge drinking earlier in life may be associated with an increased for stroke, heart attack, hardened arteries and even sudden death later in life.

For this small study, 38 non-smoking and otherwise healthy college students, between the ages of 18 and 25, volunteered for a series of blood tests and physical examinations. Of the volunteers, 19 were not drinkers and 17 met the criteria for binge drinking.

The blood tests measured cholesterol, blood sugar, blood alcohol levels and other heart health biomarkers. Blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels in the blood were also measured. The researchers even took small fat samples from the buttock of each participant to measure the circulation capabilities of blood vessels.

People in the binge drinking group said they had participated in an average of six binge drinking sessions in the past month and had done so for an average of four years. All of them had engaged in binge drinking between 24 and 96 hours before the tests.

The results showed that in binge drinkers, the two main cell types that control blood flow in and around the heart did not function as well as the cells in the participants who did not drink.

The blood flow in those cells was reduced by 8 percent in binge drinkers compared to non-drinkers.

Binge drinkers had a 20 percent reduction in blood flow that was triggered by nitric oxide, an important chemical in the body that promotes blood flow, compared the non-drinkers.

Results from previous studies have shown that people who drank more than six drinks per day for longer than eight years had similar rates of reduced blood flow as those found in the current study. These types of blood flow reductions have been linked to hardened arteries later in life.

Blood pressure rates and cholesterol levels were similar in both groups of volunteers.

“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 clinical cardiovascular disease,” the authors concluded.

“It is important that young adults understand that binge drinking patterns are an extreme form of unhealthy or at-risk drinking and are associated with serious social and medical consequences,” said Dr. Piano in a press statement.

This study was published in April in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The National Institutes of Health, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Center for Research Resources provided funding for this project. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 24, 2013
Last Updated:
August 5, 2013