A study presented at the 2021 Congress of the European Society of Cardiology showed that alcohol consumption in the period between adolescence and youth is associated with the onset of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arterial walls and considered an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The analysis was done by researchers at University College London, England, who noted a gradual increase — that is, the more a person drinks, the greater the increase in arterial stiffness.
Hugo Walford, a medical student at the university and author of the study, reinforced that the problem was not explained by other factors that predispose to heart disease, suggesting that excessive drinking during this phase of life has a direct impact on the body’s cardiovascular health.
The reduction in the elasticity of blood vessels is a natural process that happens with the aging of the body and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. But the process can be speeded up by some behaviors like smoking and heavy drinking.
How was the study done?
- The study looked at 1,655 participants between 17 and 24 years — the age group considered “critical” because it is when teenagers commonly start drinking and smoking more frequently;
- Alcohol consumption was checked and classified as “never”, “medium” (up to four drinks in one outing) and “high” (more than five drinks in one outing);
- Smoking was also categorized as “never”, “former smokers”, “medium” (less than 10 cigarettes per day) and “high” (10 or more cigarettes per day);
- Artery elasticity was assessed by a non-invasive and reliable method;
- The researchers also adjusted the results according to age, gender and socioeconomic status, in addition to considering the BMI (Body Mass Index), blood pressure and cholesterol, blood glucose and inflammation indices of the 24-year-olds;
- The result showed that arterial stiffness increased on average 10.3% from 17 to 24 years, with a slightly greater increase among women;
- The increase in rigidity accompanied the increase in the medical score for alcohol consumption, but did not follow the increase in the smoking score with the exception of women.
Why is it important?
Nights out with alcoholic beverages are a reality for many teenagers and university students — an age group that tends to believe they are immune to the health problems that usually appear with advancing age, such as cardiovascular disease.
However, the researchers say the study shows how these risky behaviors, even during youth, can have a major impact on health, accelerating the natural process of hardening of the arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke in the future.