College Drinking May Encourage Heart Disease
> 5/21/2007 3:19:36 PM

In a press release that will likely fall on deaf ears on the ill effects of college drinking, the American Heart Association announced that young drinkers may induce the production of dangerous amounts of a common protein associated with inflammation and related cardiovascular problems.

The substance in question, known as C-reactive Protein, usually arises in response to an injury of some sort, accompanying systemic inflammation as a protective measure. The presence of unusually large amounts of this protein also leads to unwanted fatty deposits in the arteries, which in turn increase one's risk of heart attack, stroke, and related afflictions. Drinking consistently or in binges may lead to inflammation through dehydration as well as acute alcohol poisoning, and the students studied in the AHA effort who were identified as heavy drinkers registered almost twice the level of CRP as their teetotaling (or moderate) peers. The connection would seem obvious, but conditions like common illnesses, obesity, smoking and diabetes can also lead to large increases in CRP totals, and the later-life risks touted in the study are only (very loosely) implied.

Also questionable is the fact that the study qualifies heavy drinking as at least five drinks more than once a week or at least three drinks three or more times a week when, in 2006, the Archives of Internal Medicine asserted in analyzing a series of long-term studies that moderate alcohol consumption actually lowers mortality rates and increases life expectancies. It may even work to reduce blood clotting and inflammation. Their definition of "moderate" drinking: up to 2 drinks every day for women and 4 drinks every day for men. These two studies clearly draw opposing conclusions from the same variables and types of data. The study cited by the AHA does not have the benefit of long-term testing or follow-up surveys. And its subject pool was limited to a measly 25 undergrads. Independent studies have revealed that, in later adulthood, nondrinkers actually have higher CRP rates than those who drink "moderately."

The stats regarding underage alchoholism are alarming: ...according to the NIDA’s (National Institute on Drug Abuse) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85 percent of twenty-year-olds have drunk alcohol. When they reach 21, according to the survey, 50 percent binge drink regularly, and a quarter have a diagnosable substance abuse disorder.

The fact that excessive drinking complicates pre-existing health problems while  simultaneously creating new ones is also incontenstible. But a consensus on the nature of that excess and the precise ways in which such behavior changes one's chemistry for the worse still manages to elude us. It's clear that alcohol damages the developing brain and body and that binge drinking poses serious threats not only to future cardiovascular health but to the pivotal daily functions of the human body. And, of course, the college drinking epidemic shows no signs of fading, so the most important responsibility held by parents and academic institutions is that of effectively communicating the risks inherent in the excessive consumption of alcohol. But citing inconclusive, small-scale studies like this one is not the way to do it.

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