The findings of this review indicate that binge drinking is associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in middle-aged and older adults. The binge drinking pattern among young adults may also be related to future cardiovascular disease risk in older age.
The majority of research data on the drinking pattern has concluded that while truly moderate drinking may have favorable effects on most types of cardiovascular disease (CVD), heavy drinking and specially heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking*) may have adverse effects.
A recent review by US and Brazilian scientists looked in detail at epidemiological and mechanistic data relating binge drinking to aspects of CVD. After reviewing the epidemiological studies, they concluded that the results are quite consistent in showing that individuals who report binge drinking tend to have a higher blood pressure as well as a greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias.
As epidemiological studies cannot differentiate between cause and effect and thus, cannot prove causality, it is necessary to look at mechanisms that could explain the observed associations. After reviewing such experimental data, the authors of the review found evidence suggesting that, both acutely and over time, binge drinking impairs endothelial function, flow-mediated vasodilation and nitroglycerin-induced dilation. Binge drinking may also directly alter the vaso-reactivity of smooth muscle cells, and may alter the response of the circulatory system to vasoactive substances, affect lipid profiles and hemostatic/coagulation factors, which can influence risk for heart attack or stroke, and can induce cardiac arrhythmias that may result in heart attack and sudden cardiac death.
This review highlights the importance of considering the drinking pattern as well as the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed during a time when discussing health effects and when formulating alcohol drinking guidelines and public health messages.
(*) Binge drinking defined as consuming 5 drinks or more in a row for men (> 4 drinks for women) per occasion within the past 2 weeks or 30 days
Piano MR, Mazzuco A, Kang M, Phillips SA. Cardiovascular Consequences of Binge Drinking: An Integrative Review with Implications for Advocacy, Policy, and Research. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2017; doi: 10.1111/acer.13329
For more information about this article, read the scientific abstract here.