April 20, 2007 / 7:35 PM / in 12 years

College drinking may increase heart disease risk

Beer drinkers fill up mugs at the Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon, July 29, 2005. A study presented at the American Heart Association's 8th annual conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology underway in Chicago, shows that heavy drinking by college students increases levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. REUTERS/Richard Clement

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A study presented at the American Heart Association’s 8th annual conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology underway in Chicago, shows that heavy drinking by college students increases levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

A team at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, led by undergraduate Elizabeth Donovan, surveyed 25 college students about behaviors that can affect CRP levels.

Students were asked to complete a survey that included questions about their smoking habits, medication use, recent weight loss, alcohol consumption, and other factors.

Six students did not drink and 10 were classified as moderate drinkers, defined as 2 to 5 drinks once or twice a week. Nine students were heavy drinkers, defined as 3 or more drinks at one sitting 3 or more times a week or 5 or more drinks at one sitting 2 or more days a week.

The average CRP level for the group as a whole was 0.9 milligrams per liter, which indicates an overall a low risk for heart disease. However, this increased rapidly, with moderate drinkers having CRP levels of 0.58 milligrams per liter and heavy drinkers having CRP levels of 1.25 milligrams per liter.

Male drinkers had higher average CRP levels than did female drinkers, although the difference was not statistically significant.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Donovan pointed out that the relationship between alcohol consumption and CRP levels was shaped as a J curve, with slightly lower-than-average CRP levels seen with small amounts of alcohol consumption, which then rose sharply as drinking became heavier.

Many college students may be beginning a pattern of drinking that is increasing their risk of heart disease, “which is an additional reason to be concerned about drinking during college,” Donovan asserted. “College-aged students need to know that they are increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease by drinking early in life.”

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