A study comparing patterns of alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland and France found that the binge drinkers of Belfast were at a much greater risk of heart disease. The choice of beer or wine may also be important.
The volume of alcohol consumed by middle aged men in Northern Ireland and France is almost identical. However, in Belfast, the alcohol is all consumed within one or two days at the weekend. Drinkers in France tend to consume the same amount over a whole week.
The researchers, led by Dr Jean-Bernard Ruidavets from Toulouse University, investigated whether drinking patterns in Northern Ireland and France were linked to the known disparity in heart disease between these two culturally diverse countries.
In the study, binge drinking was defined as drinking more than 4- 5 drinks over a short period, where a drink equates to a 125ml glass of wine or half pint of beer.
Over a ten year period, Ruidavets and colleagues assessed the alcohol consumption of 9,758 men from three centres in France (Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse) and Belfast. The participants were free from heart disease when the research started in 1991 and were between the ages of 50 to 59.
The participants were divided into never drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers and binge drinkers. The ‘drinkers’ were asked via interviews and questionnaires about the volume of alcohol they consumed on a weekly and daily basis and also about the type of beverage.
The results show that the men who “binge” drink had nearly twice the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared to regular drinkers over the 10 years of follow up.
The researchers write: “the prevalence of binge drinking, which doubled the risk of ischaemic heart disease compared with regular drinking, was almost 20 times higher in Belfast than in the French centres.”
The drink of choice in both countries may also play a role; beer and spirits are most commonly consumed in Northern Ireland, with wine being France’s preferred tipple. Established research has concluded that drinking a moderate about of wine can protect against heart disease.
Ruidavets and colleagues conclude that the research has important public health implications, especially given that binge drinking is on the rise amongst younger people in Mediterranean countries.
They say: “The alcohol industry takes every opportunity to imbue alcohol consumption with the positive image, emphasising its beneficial effects on ischaemic heart disease risk, but people also need to be informed about the health consequences of heavy drinking.”
Read the full paper below;