How you drink alcohol can affect your health as much as the quantity you consume
Scientists find that consuming 14 drinks a week, averaging two a day, is beneficial for the heart, whereas 14 drinks over a weekend damages itThe study is the first to provide concrete evidence of the benefit and harm of select drinking patterns
11:35 GMT, 31 May 2012
The way you drink alcohol can have affect your health as much as the amount you consume, according to a study.
Scientists found that consuming 14 drinks a week, averaging two a day, is actually beneficial for the heart, whereas 14 drinks over a weekend damages it.
And, in a surprise finding, they also claim that binge drinkers gain three times more weight than moderate drinkers and double that of non-drinkers.
Binge: Consuming 14 drinks a week, averaging two a day, is beneficial for the heart, whereas 14 drinks over a weekend damages it
The study, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, is the first to provide concrete evidence of the benefit and harm of select drinking patterns.
Moderate drinking decreases atherosclerosis, a condition that hardens and narrows arteries leading to a heart attack or stroke, in mice.
However, binge drinking increased development of the disease.
Lead researcher Dr John Cullen, of the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, said: 'People need to consider not only how much alcohol they drink, but the way in which they are drinking it.
'Scientists don’t yet understand how moderate alcohol consumption benefits cardiovascular health or how heavy drinking episodes hurt it.
'Research shows that people have yet to be convinced of the dangers of binge drinking to their health. We’re hoping our work changes that.'
The National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism in the U.S. defines binge or 'at-risk' drinking as consuming more than four drinks on any day for men, and more than three drinks on any day for women.
Understanding how much alcohol is in a 'standard' drink is also critical.
Dr Kenneth Mukamal, of Harvard Medical School, studies the roles of dietary and lifestyle, particularly alcohol consumption, on the incidence of cardiovascular and neurovascular disease.
He said: 'This evidence is very interesting because it supports a pattern of drinking that is emerging in clinical studies as both safe and seemingly most protective against heart disease – frequent consumption of limited amounts of alcohol.
'The evidence supports a pattern of drinking that is
emerging in clinical studies as both safe and seemingly most protective
against heart disease – frequent consumption of limited amounts of
'This certainly backs up widespread clinical guidelines that limit drinking to one drink daily for non-pregnant women and two drinks daily for men.'
In the study, mice in the ‘daily-moderate’ group were fed ethanol equivalent to two drinks every day of the week.
Mice in the ‘weekend-binge’ group were fed approximately seven drinks on two days of the week and mice in the control group were fed a non-alcoholic cornstarch mix.
All mice were put on an atherogenic diet – which Dr Cullen equates to a high-fat Western diet of fried food every day – to encourage the development of atherosclerosis, which forms when fatty deposits or plaque collect on the inner walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow.
Levels of LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol, plummeted 40 per cent in the daily-moderate drinking mice, but rose 20 per cent 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 per cent increase in LDL results in a 20 per cent increase in atherosclerosis risk.
Surprisingly, levels of HDL, or 'good' cholesterol, went up in both the moderate and binge drinking groups, which Dr Cullen 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.
Another unexpected yet noteworthy finding was that the 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.
Building on this study, Dr Cullen is investigating genes that are turned on or off following moderate and binge drinking episodes to determine if they influence outcomes.