Binge drinking by adolescents increases long-term risk for heart disease

New research into lifelong alcohol consumption reveals that heavy binge drinking by adolescents and young adults is associated with increased long-term risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.

The risk is lower in people who start drinking alcohol later in life and maintain more moderate drinking patterns.

The study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) , also indicates that the increased health risks were independent of the total amount of alcohol consumed over a lifetime, or whether or not people stopped or curtailed drinking as they matured.

"To fully understand the effect of alcohol consumption on health, you need to consider lifetime drinking patterns," said Dr. Marcia Russell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation's Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif., and senior author of the study. "Early initiation of alcohol drinking and heavy drinking in adolescence and early adulthood seem to be associated with a number of adverse health effects collectively known as the metabolic syndrome.”

The term metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of metabolic risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The exact cause of the metabolic syndrome is not known, but genetic factors, too much body fat (especially in the waist area), and lack of exercise increase the risk of developing the condition.

Russell and her colleagues based their research on data from the Western New York Health Study (WNYHS), conducted between 1996 and 2001. This study retrospectively collected lifestyle information on more than 2,800 people who reported that they were regular drinkers at one point in their lives. The study also collected data on the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its individual components, including obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and high fasting glucose.

The WNYHS study revealed two distinct lifetime drinking trajectories among people who were ever regular drinkers. Drinking trajectory refers to the variability in drinking behavior over the span of a person's lifetime.

Early peak lifetime trajectories were characterized by early and heavy drinking followed by a sharp reduction in alcohol intake. Stable trajectories were characterized by more moderate intakes over a longer period of life. Lifetime drinking patterns included total years of drinking, first and last age of regular drinking, total volume of alcohol consumed, and many other factors. Early peak drinkers were, on average, 10 years younger than stable drinkers. Despite this age difference, the early peak drinkers still had a modestly higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

“Drinking patterns associated with early peak and stable drinking trajectories were distinctly different,” said Russell. “Early peak drinkers generally began drinking earlier than stable drinkers. They drank fewer years, less frequently, and consumed less volume of alcohol over their lifetimes, but averaged more drinks per drinking day and had higher rates of episodic heavy drinking and intoxication.”

The researchers speculate that the reason for the increased risk for metabolic syndrome found in the study may be associated with the adverse health effects of early unhealthy drinking patterns, which were carried over to later life. Also, early peak drinkers may have adopted other lifestyle habits detrimental to cardio-metabolic health.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Amy Fan, also of the Prevention Research Center. Other study authors include Dr. Saverio Stranges of the University at Buffalo, N.Y., and the University of Warwick, U.K.; and Drs. Joan Dorn and Maurizio Trevisan of the University of Buffalo.

Russell also was lead developer of the Cognitive Lifetime Drinking History, a computer-assisted personal interview designed to assess drinking patterns retrospectively over the lifetime in studies of chronic conditions related to alcohol use.

The paper “Association of Lifetime Alcohol Drinking Trajectories with Cardiometabolic Risk” will be published in the January 2008 issue of JCEM , a publication of The Endocrine Society.

For more information on the metabolic syndrome, visit:

Founded in 1916, The Endocrine Society is the world's oldest, largest, and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Today, The Endocrine Society's membership consists of more than 14,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in more than 80 countries. Together, these members represent all basic, applied and clinical interests in endocrinology.

Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., was at the University of Buffalo for 22 years, but as of October 1 he is Executive Vice Chancellor and CEO of the Health Sciences System of the Nevada System of Higher Education.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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