Binge drinking linked to heart damage, study finds

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A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates there may be a link between binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption and heart damage.

Reuters reported that researchers analyzed data from nearly 3,000 adults from northwest Russia. They found that heavy drinking was associated with increased levels of blood biomarkers that signify harm to heart tissue.

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They included ones that showed a sign of heart muscle injury, a marker of heart-wall stretch associated with heart failure and a measure of inflammation linked to atherosclerosis, a build up of fats and other substances in the arteries.

There are two mechanisms that may influence how alcohol consumption can negatively affect the heart.

“The first one is related to increases in blood pressure due to heavy alcohol use,” said study leader Olena Iakunchykova, a PhD candidate at the University in Tromso - The Arctic University of Norway. “In turn, (high) blood pressure damages the structure and function of the heart. Second, alcohol can directly affect heart muscle by causing changes in its cell metabolism.”

In examining how binge drinking leads to heart damage, Iakunchykova and her colleges recruited a mixed group of adults from Russia. Most of the group — 2,479 volunteers between the ages of  35 to 69 — were split into categories to determine their drinking habits. The other group — 278 patients — were undergoing clinical treatment for alcohol abuse.

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The community-dwelling 2,479 volunteers were divided into four categories: hazardous drinkers, harmful drinkers, non-problem drinkers and nondrinkers. The categories were based on volunteers’ self-described drinking habits.

Harmful drinkers were found to have a dangerous drinking problem on two of three questionnaires. Hazardous drinkers had dangerous drinking issues on all three questionnaires.

All volunteers were tested for biomarkers linked to heart damage at the beginning of the study. Volunteers in treatment for alcohol abuse had the highest of all three biomarker levels. Compared to non-problem drinkers, biomarkers related to heart muscle injury, heart-wall stretching and inflammation were increased by 10.3%, 46.7% and 69.2% respectively.

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Heart-wall stretch biomarkers for the community-dwelling volunteers was 31.5% higher among harmful drinkers compared to non-problem drinkers. As alcohol consumption increased, so did the biomarkers for heart-wall stretching and inflammation.

The results didn’t change when researchers reviewed former drinkers and never-drinkers separately. That remained true when researchers removed volunteers with a history of heart attack from the review.

Iakunchykova said the study shows “heavy drinking leads to damage of the structure and function of the heart.”

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Yet researchers noted they were unable to account for the effects of smoking. The study was also not made to prove cause and effect, as it pointed to a single moment in time.

Regardless, another study has found it doesn’t take just heavy drinking to create bodily damage.

The Japanese study recently found that light to moderate drinking can increase the risk of cancer. Light drinking, which was defined in the study as drinking once each day for 10 years or consuming two beverages a day for five years, increased the general risk of cancer by 5%.