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Apr 23, 2013

Binge Drinking Harms the Heart

A study highlights the negative impact that excessive drinking can have on the heart—even in young, healthy individuals.

Many studies suggest that alcohol, in moderation, may improve blood pressure and reduce risk for heart disease. When it comes to having one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men, alcohol consumption may actually improve heart health by improving blood pressure control. But what happens when people take it to the extreme and drink to excess? According to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, binge drinking may reverse the heart-healthy benefits of moderate alcohol intake and harm our hearts.

This study included 38 young adults ages 18–25 who fell on either end of the drinking spectrum. About half of study participants abstained from drinking altogether, while others had a history of repeated binge drinking (5 or more drinks in 2 hours for men, and 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women). After collecting dietary information and conducting a battery of tests that assessed heart health of the participants, researchers found that otherwise healthy individuals who binge drank had greater cardiovascular risk compared to abstainers. Their arteries and vessels that circulate blood throughout the body were less healthy than those who didn’t drink—a risk factor that is often seen in individuals with other risk factors for heart disease.

The ABCs of Binge Drinking

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Although more research is needed to better understand the impact that binge drinking has on heart health, this study highlights the negative impact that excessive drinking can have on the heart—even in young, otherwise healthy individuals. In this study, most heavy drinkers engaged in binge drinking about 6 times each month and had been binge drinking for about four years. Even if these individuals grow out of this behavior, it’s possible that binge drinking could have long-term effects on health. And for individuals who habitually binge drink over long periods of time, the impact could be even greater.

Like most things, moderation is key. While non-drinkers shouldn’t pick up the habit, people who do enjoy alcohol should stick to the generally accepted guidelines—one drink a day or less for women and two drinks a day or less for men—to promote heart health.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is it healthy to drink alcohol on a daily basis?
  • In moderation, research shows that alcohol consumption (one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men) may lower risk for heart disease. However, exceeding these limits can have serious effects on cardiovascular and overall health.

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Among some of the benefits of drinking a modest amount of alcohol are decreased risk of heart attack, decreased risk of ischemic stroke, decreased risk of blood clotting, and increased levels of good cholesterol.

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