Heavy drinking can have lasting negative health effects, based on a recent study that links heavy alcohol consumption to stiffened arteries in men, even years after quitting.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the impact of alcohol consumption on arterial stiffness over time. Arterial stiffness, which occurs when the heart’s arteries harden over time, is an important marker of heart health. While the negative effects of drinking on heart health are well documented, the long-term impact of heavy drinking on the arteries is less clear.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Whitehall II study, which tracked the health and lifestyle of British government employees for nearly two decades. From 1985 through 2013, participants provided information on their drinking habits every 4–5 years. Beginning in 2007, participants underwent pulse wave velocity assessments—a noninvasive test that measures arterial stiffness. All participants completed their first assessment between 2007 and 2009, and then repeated the test between 2012 and 2013 to assess changes in arterial stiffness.
A total of 3,869 adults participated in the study, nearly three-quarters of which were white males.
After analysis, researchers found that heavy male drinkers (defined as consuming more than seven drinks or fourteen shots of liquor a week) had significantly stiffer arteries than moderate male drinkers. Researchers also found that previous heavy male drinkers had greater increases in arterial stiffness over the study period than consistently moderate drinkers. In other words, heavy drinking accelerated hardening of the arteries in men, even after they stopped drinking.
Researchers also note that these associations were not significant among women. However, there were few women included in the study and among all participants, only 18% of women were considered heavy drinkers, compared to 28% of men.
The take-home message, as authors explain, is that heavy drinking can have lasting health effects, especially in men. Current guidelines recommend no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as one shot of liquor, one glass of wine or one beer. As authors explain, it’s important that adults understand these guidelines, as many underestimate how much they drink. Exceeding guidelines can have lasting, negative effects on both cardiovascular and overall health.