According to a study in the U.S., college students who over indulge in alcohol are increasing their risk for future heart disease.
Elizabeth Donovan, lead researcher of the study and an undergraduate student at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, has found that a group of college students who drank heavily had higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP); CRP is a blood marker for inflammation which can increase the risk for heart disease.
Donovan says increased CRP placed heavy drinkers at moderate risk for cardiovascular disease in early adulthood and highlights an additional reason to be concerned about heavy drinking in college-age individuals.
In the main previous studies of alcohol and CRP levels have focused on older people, this study has looked at individuals in early adulthood and Donovan says if high CRP levels are recognized at an early age, a person has the chance to make healthier lifestyle choices.
The small study involved twenty-five college-age individuals who completed surveys that assessed factors that can affect CRP levels such as alcohol consumption patterns, medication use, smoking habits and recent weight loss; the students were then assigned to one of three groups:
Non-drinkers, meaning they consumed one or less drinks one day a week;
Moderate drinkers, who consumed two to five drinks of alcohol on a typical drinking day, one to two days a week;
Heavy drinkers, who consumed three or more drinks at least three or more days a week or consumed five or more drinks in one sitting at least two or more days a week.
One drink equated to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol.
Students on oral contraceptives, hormone therapy, cholesterol-lowering therapy or who had a significant recent weight loss were excluded from the study.
The average CRP for students in the study was 0.9 milligrams per liter (mg/L), placing the group as a whole at low risk.
CRP levels less than 1 mg/L are associated with low risk for cardiovascular disease.
CRP levels between 1 and 3 mg/L are associated with moderate risk and CRP levels above 3 mg/L are associated with high risk for future cardiovascular disease.
The researchers found that college students who were moderate drinkers had significantly lower CRP levels than heavy drinkers, with the average level at 0.58 mg/L for moderate drinkers, but rising to 1.25 mg/L for heavy drinkers.
The non or low drinkers had CRP levels of 0.85 mg/L, and the difference between them and moderate drinkers was not significant.
Donovan says a pattern emerged indicating that even in a young, otherwise healthy population, heavy drinking is associated with elevated CRP levels.
She says the CRP levels of individuals who consumed high amounts of alcohol were significantly greater than CRP levels in individuals who consumed moderate amounts.
The researchers also found that CRP and a high Body Mass Index were more likely in males, and that a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables were associated with lower CRP levels.
Those with a family history of cardiovascular disease also had higher CRP levels.
Donovan says while moderate alcohol intake appears to offer some health benefits, heavy and binge drinking are not advisable.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people who drink alcohol do so in moderation which means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
The AHA says drinking alcohol excessively increases such dangers as alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents.
The researchers presented their report at the American Heart Association's 8th Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.