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Heavy Drinking at College Age may Increase Heart Disease Risk

Heavy drinking isn't healthy at any age, but kids who are college-aged often think they're indestructible. But new research has shown that even college-age people can increase their risk of heart problems when they drink heavily.

The participants in the study were college students who routinely drank excessively. They had above-normal levels of CRP, or C-reactive protein, in their blood. CRP is a marker for inflammation in your system. Researchers have linked CRP to cardiovascular disease.

CRP levels go up when there's an infection or injury to the body. Infection or injury causes inflammation, and CRP is a measure of inflammation in the walls of the arteries.

In the recent study, researchers asked college students to complete surveys about their drinking habits, smoking, use of medication and recent weight loss. All of these factors can influence CRP levels. The students were then placed into three groups:

  • Non-drinkers, who had one or fewer drinks per week
  • Moderate drinkers, who had two to five drinks per day one or two days per week
  • Heavy drinkers, who had three or more more drinks per day at least three days per week.
  • Binge drinkers were included in the category of heavy drinkers. Binge drinking was identified as having five or more drinks at a time at least two or more days per week.

Study results showed that the students overall had low CRP levels, but the heavy drinkers had the highest CRP levels.

Other ways alcohol affects the heart

Alcohol affects the health of your heart in other ways as well. For example, it can:

  • Increase triglyceride levels in some people. (Triglycerides are a kind of blood fat.)
  • Increase the risk of heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and enlargement of the heart
  • Raise blood pressure and prevent blood pressure medications from working effectively

Alcohol can affect heart health indirectly as well. It has a fair amount of calories, which can make it difficult to control your weight. One can of beer contains about 300 calories, and a four-ounce glass of wine typically has 80 to 95 calories. These can add up quickly when you're out with friends and not paying attention to how much you're drinking.

You often hear about the protective benefits of having a little bit of red wine each day. But it's only beneficial if the amount of wine is small—two glasses a day for men and one for women. Otherwise the risks of alcohol tend to outweigh the benefits.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood; F. Pashkow and C. Libov. The Women’s Heart Book. Hyperion, New York, New York, 10023, 2001

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