April 19, 2007 -- Drinking heavily in college may make heart disease more likely later in life, a preliminary study suggests.
The small study included 25 college-aged men and women who provided blood samples and completed a survey about their drinking habits.
The survey shows that six students were nondrinkers, 10 were moderate drinkers, and nine were heavy drinkers.
One drink equaled 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Heavy drinking was defined as consuming three or more drinks at least three days per week, or consuming five or more drinks in one sitting at least two days per week.
The researchers included undergraduate student Elizabeth Donovan and nutrition professor Amy Olson, PhD, RD, LD, of the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.
They measured the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the participants' blood samples.
CRP is an inflammatory chemical found in blood. Elevated CRP levels have beenassociated with heart disease risk in other studies, note Donovan and colleagues.
Participants' average CRP level was low, indicating a low risk for heart disease. However, CRP levels were higher for heavy drinkers than for moderate drinkers and nondrinkers, who had similar CRP levels.
"The take-home message is that if CRP levels are predictive of future risk for cardiovascular disease, then college-aged individuals may be beginning to follow this pattern, which is another reason to be concerned about heavy drinking in college-aged individuals," Donovan tells WebMD.
Many factors -- including alcohol, medications, physical activity, and body fat -- can affect CRP levels, note Donovan and colleagues.
Their findings will be presented today in Chicago, at the American Heart Association's 8th Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
Because the study was small, further research is needed on college drinking, CRP, and heart disease risk, notes the American Heart Association in a news release.