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Binge Drinking Increases Heart Disease Risk

In Study, Heavy Drinkers Had Nearly Twice the Risk of Heart Attack or Death From Heart Disease
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 23, 2010 -- Heavy drinking or binge drinking a couple of days a week may be worse for the heart than drinking a moderate amount of alcohol throughout the week, new research indicates.

Researchers in France and in Belfast, Northern Ireland, say that middle-aged men in both places drink about the same amount of alcohol per week.

But in Belfast, people tend to go on binges, drinking in one or two days about the same amount of alcohol that French men drink in a week.

Alcohol Use in Belfast and France

Jean-Bernard Ruidavets, MD, of Toulouse University, and colleagues studied alcohol drinking patterns of 9,758 men in France and Belfast over a 10-year period. For the study, scientists divided participants between the ages of 50 and 59 without ischemic heart disease into four distinct groups -- never drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers, and binge drinkers.

Drinkers were interviewed and completed questionnaires about how much alcohol they drank on a weekly and daily basis, and also about the type of beverage they drank.

The researchers also gathered cardiovascular risk factors from the participants, including level of physical activity, blood pressure, and waist circumference, a measure of belly fat.

Men Who Drink Heavily Have Nearly Twice the Risk of Heart Attack

The results show that men who binge drink have nearly twice the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease than regular drinkers over a 10-year period.

Binge drinking was defined as excessive alcohol consumption, or the equivalent of four or five drinks in a short period of time such as a weekend day.

“We found that alcohol consumption patterns differed radically in the two countries,” the researchers say. “In Belfast, most men’s alcohol intake was on one day of the weekend, Saturday, whereas in the three French centers [Lille, Strasbourg, Toulouse] studied, alcohol consumption was spread more evenly throughout the entire week.”

The Health Risks of Bingeing

The prevalence of binge drinking was nearly 20 times higher in Belfast than in the French areas, and was associated with double the risk of ischemic heart disease, compared with regular drinkers, the researchers say.

The authors say another reason for a higher risk of heart disease in Belfast might be that people tend to drink beer and liquor more than they do wine.

In France, wine, which has been shown to protect against heart disease when drunk in moderation, is the alcoholic drink of choice.

Ruidavets and his research team say their findings have important health implications, especially because binge drinking among younger people is on the rise in Mediterranean countries.

“The alcohol industry takes every opportunity to imbue alcohol consumption with the positive image, emphasizing its beneficial effects on ischemic heart disease risk, but people also need to be informed about the health consequences of heavy drinking,” the authors write.

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