By Jeffrey Kopman
Even when young adults aren't overindulging in cinnamon, playing "the choking game", or car surfing, more than half of those in college are risking their health with a more traditional pastime - binge drinking.
These hard-partying college students put themselves at immediate risk for a change in blood circulation, and a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease later in life, according to a small new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"Alcohol can be directly toxic to the heart and lead to weakening of the heart muscle and heart failure," said William Abraham, MD, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at The Ohio State University Medical Center. "Toxic manifestations take a while to show up in heart detection, but can be serious enough to require heart transplant."
The Binge-Drinking Pattern
Regular binge drinking remains one of the most serious health problems for U.S. colleges, and previous research has linked youth binge drinking to higher risks for sudden death, stroke, and heart attack later in life.
Approximately 67 percent of younger adults - ages 18 to 34 - say they regularly drink alcohol, a recent Gallup poll found. That age group was second only to the 72 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds who admitted to regularly drinking alcohol.
However, the younger age group drink more per week on average -- 5.4 drinks per week compared to only 3.6 drinks for the older group. (Drinkers over the age of 55 average 3.9 weekly drinks.)
Younger adults (31 percent) also lead the way in claiming they "sometimes drink too much." Fewer middle-aged drinkers (24 percent), and far fewer older drinkers (12 percent), said they drank too much.
The youngest group, particularly those in college, binge drink the most and are therefore more susceptible to something called endothelium dysfunction -- disruption in the way their blood vessels function that has been linked to hypertension, diabetes, and septic shock, according to the American College for Cardiology study.
In the study, researchers tested 38 healthy college students (17 binge drinkers and 19 non-binge drinkers) twice during a binge-drinking episode to determine their total cholesterol, insulin and glucose, complete blood count, C-reactive protein, and blood alcohol levels. They also gave the students a questionnaire about drinking habits, and did cardiac imaging studies.
Researchers found that binge drinkers had impaired blood flow control, comparable to that of people who have a history of daily heavy drinking. When blood isn't flowing properly, it can lead to hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular diseases.
Other Unhealthy Habits That Hurt the Heart
The study's authors stressed the dangers of binge drinking in contrast to regular and moderate alcohol consumption, and recommended that young adults be screened for a history of binge drinking to determine who is at risk of heart problems.
Dr. Abraham warned that although young adults may be harming their hearts with binge drinking, other risky behaviors and an unhealthy lifestyle play a role too.
"Illicit drug use has consequences for the heart. Cocaine, amphetamines, and stimulants can lead to heart attack or heart failure," Abraham said. "[But] one of the major issues today is teenager inactivity. Fewer teens are being active, and are spending more on computers, social media, and video games. Inactivity has a long-term impact on heart health."
Abraham also attributed short- and long-term heart problems to dietary habits.
"Inactivity and poor dietary habits of many teens are linked to the epidemic of teenage obesity, which plants the seed for heart disease in the future," he said.
"Party Hard in College, Have Heart Problems Later On" originally appeared on Everyday Health.