Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Holiday revelers may want to tone down the good cheer this year if they want to preserve heart health.
A study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that many heavy drinkers have higher levels of three key biomarkers -- or measurable quantities of specific cells in blood -- that indicate elevated risk for heart tissue damage.
The study's authors defined heavy drinkers as those who have six or more drinks on one occasion, often feel hungover or drunk, need a drink first thing in the morning, whose life has been adversely affected by their drinking or who have had family members or others express concerns about drinking.
"A person can have heart damage before symptoms occur, which we call subclinical heart disease," study author Olena Iakunchykova, a doctoral candidate in community medicine at the University in Tromsø, The Arctic University of Norway, said in a statement. "By measuring the level of certain molecules in the blood, we were able to find that heavy drinkers are much more likely to have subclinical heart damage than people who drink less heavily."
While research has already demonstrated that heavy drinking can increase risks for alcoholic cardiomyopathy -- which can lead to alcohol-induced heart failure, as well as high blood pressure, heart attack, arrhythmias and stroke -- understanding of how alcohol consumption has such a negative effect on heart health is limited.
For the study, Iakunchykova and her colleagues examined blood samples from 2,525 adults between 35 and 39 years of age from the Know Your Heart project over a four-year period.
In all, 2,479 of the participants were from the general population of Arkhangelsk, Russia, while the other rest were people who had been diagnosed with and treated for alcoholism at the Arkhangelsk Regional Psychiatric Hospital.
The researchers sorted respondents based on their self-reported alcohol consumption, including those who didn't drink at all, those who consumed alcohol but not heavily and heavy drinkers.
The hospital sample, which included the heaviest drinkers, had the highest levels of all three biomarkers -- high sensitivity cardiac Troponin T, a measure of heart injury; N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide, a marker of heart wall stretch; and high sensitivity C-reactive protein, a measure of heart inflammation -- compared to non-problem drinkers. In fact, their levels of the three biomarkers were 10.3 percent, 46.7 percent and 69.2 percent higher than those of non-drinkers.
Because the research was confined to one city, the study results may not be generalizable to other races or ethnic populations. The authors said more research is needed to show how heavy alcohol use can impact heart health.
"Our results suggest that people who drink heavily are creating higher than normal levels of inflammation in their bodies that have been linked to a wide range of health conditions including cardiovascular disease," Iakunchykova said. "The study adds to what we already know about the health consequences of heavy alcohol consumption. We are now studying ultrasound images of the heart as it beats to help us identify the precise sorts of heart damage associated with heavy and harmful drinking."