Heavy Drinking Throughout College Could Increase Heart Attack Risk, Study Finds

Four years of heavy drinking between the ages of 18 and 25 could permanently increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, a new study suggests.

The study included 38 nonsmoking college students. Half did not drink, and half were binge drinkers, meaning they consumed five or more servings of alcohol in two hours, at least six times a month, for about four years, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The researchers from the University of Illinois used ultrasound imaging to examine blood vessels in the students’ arms when they were given the blood-vessel dilating drug nitroglycerin. They observed what happened when the arm’s blood flow was temporarily restricted, and then allowed to run freely.

The students who didn’t drink had blood vessels that were more elastic, and dilated more easily, compared with the vessels of binge drinkers. This could be an early indicator of blood vessel damage and heart disease, which could increase the future risk of heart problems, the researchers said.

“Regular binge drinking is one of the most serious public health problems confronting our college campuses, and drinking on college campuses has become more pervasive and destructive,” researcher Shane A. Phillips, PT, PhD, said in a news release. “Binge drinking is neurotoxic and our data support that there may be serious cardiovascular consequences in young adults.”

“It is important that young adults understand that binge drinking patterns are an extreme form of unhealthy or at-risk drinking and are associated with serious social and medical consequences,” added co-author Mariann Piano, PhD, RN. “Discoveries and advances in many different areas of medical science have cautioned against the notion that youth protects against the adverse effects of bad lifestyle behaviors or choices.”

The new study will appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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