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Binge drinking raises heart disease risk

Binge drinking worse for heart than same amount spread over the week

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The same amount of alcohol drunk during a day or two’s ‘binge’ seems to almost double the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared with the same amount drunk over the course of a week, research has shown. Drinking patterns in Belfast are far more hazardous than those in France, and could explain why Northern Ireland has high rates of heart disease, suggest the study’s authors on bmj.com.

Average alcohol consumption is almost identical in Belfast and in Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse, but in France people tend to drink a little every day whereas in Belfast the culture is to binge drink over one or two days – Belfast drinkers consumed twice to three times the amount of French drinkers at the weekend. Researchers investigated whether drinking patterns in the cities were correlated with rates of heart disease, in the Prospective Epidemiological Study of Myocardial Infarction (PRIME).

They asked 9758 men aged 50-59 about their drinking habits and divided them into never drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers and binge drinkers. They also recorded cardiovascular risk factors such as age, smoking, physical activity, blood pressure and waist measurement.

During 10 years’ follow up, binge drinkers were almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as regular drinkers.

The researchers say: “In Belfast most men’s alcohol intake was concentrated on one day of the weekend (Saturday), whereas in the three French centres studied alcohol consumption was spread more evenly throughout the entire week … The prevalence of binge drinking, which doubled the risk of ischaemic heart disease compared with regular drinking, was almost 20 times higher in Belfast than in the French centres.”

The authors suggest than another reason for the higher risk of heart disease in Belfast could be the different types of alcohol drunk: more people tend to drink beer and spirits than wine whereas in France the reverse is true.

They conclude: “The alcohol industry takes every opportunity to imbue alcohol consumption with the positive image, emphasising its beneficial effects on ischaemic heart disease risk, but people also need to be informed about the health consequences of heavy drinking.”

In her accompanying editorial, Annie Britton from University College London says public health messages aimed at middle-aged men should emphasise that the protective effects of alcohol may not apply to them if they binge drink and they could be increasing their risk of having a heart attack. She argues that young people “are unlikely to take much notice of the findings about patterns of alcohol consumption and risk of heart disease, at a time when their risk of heart disease is low … they are more likely to respond to anti-binge drinking messages that focus on the risk of alcohol poisoning, injuries, assaults, and regretful risky sexual encounters.”

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