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Patterns of alcohol consumption may determine alcohol’s influence on heart health

Previous research has shown that heavily drinking one or two days a week could be more damaging to your heart than consuming a moderate amount of alcohol throughout the week. Now new research from the University of Rochester Medical Center offers a closer look at how patterns of alcohol consumption may be more important in determining alcohol’s influence on heart health than the total amount consumed.

In a study involving mice, researchers fed one group of animals ethanol equivalent to two drinks every day of the week, while a second group was given approximately seven drinks on two days of the week and a third group was fed a non-alcoholic cornstarch mix. The animals were then put on an atherogenic diet, a high fat, Western-type diet rich in cholesterol, to encourage development of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque collects on the inner walls of the arteries. According to a university release, results showed:

Levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol plummeted 40 percent in the daily-moderate drinking mice, but rose 20 percent in the weekend-binge drinking mice, compared to the no-alcohol controls. High levels of bad cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, and past studies show that every 10 percent increase in LDL results in a 20 percent increase in atherosclerosis risk.

Surprisingly, levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol went up in both the moderate and binge drinking groups, which [researchers] speculates is an acute or short-term effect.

The volume of plaque, as well as the accumulation of immune cells that promote inflammation and consequently contribute to the narrowing of arteries, decreased in the moderate mice compared to no-alcohol mice. The opposite occurred in the binge-drinking mice: Plaque volume and the number of inflammatory immune cells grew.

While the study focused on how drinking habits and weekly volume of alcohol consumption influence heart health, researchers also uncovered one interesting finding relating to weight gain:

... binge drinking mice gained significantly more weight than the moderate and control mice. Though all mice started at approximately the same weight and consumed similar amounts of food over the course of the study, the binge mice gained more than three times as much weight as the moderate mice and about twice as much weight as the control mice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as having several drinks - four for women and five for men - within two hours. A 2010 CDC study showed that 15 percent of Americans binge drink and that the majority of this group are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Previously: A sobering study suggests that binge drinking may lead to permanent brain damage, Fighting binge drinking on campus, College without booze: harder than it sounds, Does drinking alcohol in moderation improve health? and Is wine good for the heart?
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