AUG 16, 2018 2:00 PM PDT

Binge Drinking and the Heart

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

Binge drinking rates are highest in young adults, with the average young adult consuming six to seven drinks per binge-drinking episode and binge drinking several times a week. Compared to previous generations the intensity and regularity of binge drinking may place current young adults at higher risk for alcohol-related harm, such as elevated blood pressure. A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, aims to investigate the association between repeated binge drinking and blood pressure as well as lipid and fasting glucose levels.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more in a row for men, four or more in women, per occasion within the past 30 days. Previous studies have shown that binge drinking is association with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and hypertension as well as developing prehypertension. Elevated blood pressure, defined as between 120 and 129 over 80, is one of the most modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, small reductions in average blood pressure could have a marked impact on future development of cardiovascular disease. In the United States alone the consumption of alcohol accounts for close to 10% of the high blood pressure burden.

The study published by senior author Dr. Mariann Piano, a researcher at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, examined cardiovascular risk factor in relation to alcohol consumption. They reviewed data on 4,710 adults aged 18-45 who responded to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, looking at non-drinkers, binge drinkers of 12 times or less a year, and high-frequency binge drinkers. Of the participants, 25.1% percent of men and 11.8% of women reported high-frequency binge drinking, with 29% of men and 25.1% of women reporting binge drinking 12 times a year or less. The researchers examined high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other risk factors related to cardiovascular disease.

The results showed that binge drinking in young men was associated with higher systolic blood pressure, which is the force on blood vessels, and that frequent binge drinking affected cholesterol. Female binge drinkers had higher levels of blood glucose than those who did not drink. Both cholesterol, high level of blood glucose, and high blood pressure are associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, high blood pressure before age 45 significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death later in life.

With one in five college-age students reporting three or more binge drinking episodes in the prior two weeks and binge drinking rates at an all-time high, the study raises essential results regarding drinking and heart health. Binge drinking affects more than just school performance and increased risk for accidental injury these days; your long-term heart health may suffer as well. Screening and counseling students about alcohol misuse, including binge drinking, as well as advising them on how this may affect their cardiovascular health later in life is important.

To learn more about binge drinking and heart health watch the video below!

Sources: Journal of the American Heart Association

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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