Behind the headlines: Does binge drinking raise heart risk?

Men who binge drink double their risk of MI, according to news reports.

Drinking binges should be avoided (Photograph: Istock)
Drinking binges should be avoided (Photograph: Istock)

A French study showed that, compared with regular drinkers, men who drank more than 50g of alcohol at least once a week were at twice the risk of MI or coronary death.

Why was the study conducted?
Researchers from Toulouse University School of Medicine looked at whether binge drinking negated alcohol's protective benefits to the heart.

They compared patterns of drinking in Belfast and across France. The incidence of heart disease is higher in Belfast and they suggested that differences in drinking behaviour may partly explain this.

The researchers recorded the drinking of 9,778 men and assessed their coronary health 10 years later.

They found that one in 10 men in Belfast were binge drinkers, compared with one in 200 men in France.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than 50g of alcohol (two pints of strong lager or three small glasses of wine) on a single occasion.

French men drank an average of 32.8g of alcohol per day compared with 22.1g per day in Belfast.

But men in Belfast were 1.8 times more likely to suffer an MI or coronary death than men in France.

The researchers found that binge drinkers in both countries were twice as likely as regular drinkers to suffer an MI or coronary death.

The researchers said the regular, moderate alcohol intake typical of French men was associated with a low risk of heart disease, whereas the binge drinking prevalent in Belfast increased men's risk.

What does this mean for public health advice?
The researchers wrote: 'The high proportion of heavy or binge drinking among alcohol drinkers in these two populations carries a serious risk of ischaemic heart disease.'

But they said it was difficult to distinguish this effect from factors such as the men's diets.

The British Heart Foundation said the study reinforced its concerns about the effect on the heart of high alcohol consumption.

Senior cardiac nurse Amy Thompson said: 'It's important to avoid binge drinking and it's better to have a small amount of alcohol regularly rather than large amounts in one go.'

Informing patients
  • Binge drinkers have a higher risk of heart disease than people who drink more regularly.
  • People should avoid drinking more than 50g of alcohol on a single occasion.

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