By Annie Hauser
Binge drinking isn't just for college students anymore. Once this juvenile habit is all grown up, it has scary health consequences, possibly including type 2 diabetes, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine report in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The reason for the link between binge drinking and diabetes: Over-consumption of alcohol might disrupt the brain's regulation of glucose, or sugar, which over time can lead to type 2 diabetes.
When rats in the study were given large, daily doses of ethanol to simulate binge drinking, they eventually became insulin resistant -- an important marker for type 2 diabetes because insulin resistance prevents the hormone from properly regulating blood glucose levels. In addition to diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels can cause all sorts of diabetic complications, including heart disease, dementia, blindness, and stroke, largely due to neurological damage.
The authors of the study discovered that binge drinking causes insulin resistance by disrupting insulin receptor signaling in the brain. This suggests that alcohol might impair metabolism through neurotoxic effects on the brain, rather than by damaging the liver, researchers say.
Binge drinking is defined as five drinks for males or four for females within a two-hour time span. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by under-age people in the United States is in the form of binge drinking. Yet 69 percent of all U.S. binge drinking episodes involve adults older than 26, researchers write in the paper. Frequent binge drinking has previously been linked to an increased risk for alcohol addiction, risky sexual behavior, and chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension.
While binge drinking used to be more common for males than for females, more girls and women report binge drinking at least three times a month than ever before, a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed. One in five female high school students and one in eight young women commonly binge drink, the CDC found -- with men and boys drinking at about equal rates. A separate CDC report found that while drinkers under 26 drink the most, those over age 65 drink the most often -- nearly six times a month on average.
While men and women are drinking at nearly equally rates, men still face more severe consequences after binge-drinking episodes. Men have higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations than women, and men are also twice as likely to be involved in fatal drunk-driving accidents.
In the wake of the most recent study, researchers call for further research into the mechanisms by which alcohol triggers diabetes risk.
"Binge Drinking Raises Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Rats" originally appeared in Everyday Health.