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Binge Drinking May Drive Heart Disease

Heavy alcohol consumption can bring with it a variety of problems, not least of which is heart disease. In fact, a group of researchers has now identified the precise mechanisms by which binge drinking contributes to clogs in arteries that lead to heart attack and stroke.

Their findings are published in the medical journal Atherosclerosis. The work adds to a growing body of evidence that drinking patterns matter as much, if not more, to risk for cardiovascular disease than the total amount consumed.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, going on a “binge” means having five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women, in two hours.

Many studies suggest that an irregular pattern of heavy drinking brings about a two-fold increase in risk for a fatal heart attack, even as moderate drinking has been shown to reduce risk (the red wine effect). About 65 percent of Americans drink alcohol, with 15 percent reporting binge patterns in a national survey of problem drinkers.

Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol, which is mostly converted into acetaldehyde once in the human system at “binge” levels, with the levels of acetaldehyde remaining high for many hours after the binge has ended.

The current study clarified for the first time that binge levels of acetaldehyde cause an important type of immune cell, the monocyte, to become better able to stick to blood vessel walls, an important step in initiating atherosclerotic disease. Clarifying these mechanisms promises to empower the design of new treatments to counter the effects when combined with lifestyle change, researchers said.

In the past, experts believed that atherosclerosis developed when too much cholesterol clogged arteries
with fatty deposits called plaques. When blood vessels became completely blocked, heart attacks occurred. Now most believe that the reaction of the body’s immune system, more than the build-up itself, creates heart attack risk.

Vessel walls mistake fatty deposits for intruders, akin to bacteria, and call for help from the immune system. Among other cell types, monocytes arrive with the goal of preventing infection, but end up causing inflammation
that drives blood vessel blockage.

“Factors like binge-drinking have been linked to increased risk for heart disease, and the newer inflammatory model is beginning to explain how,” said John Cullen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery
at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “One of our experiments found that acetaldehyde, at levels found in the blood after binge drinking, increased the number of monocytes that can adhere to cells lining blood vessels by 700 percent,” said Cullen, who led the study.

Health psychologists argue that motivating people to stop binging depends upon their belief that it is harming them. Thus, the authors of the current study hope the results empower public health campaigns that discourage binge drinking.

source: Consumer Affairs

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