Those who start drinking later in life and maintain more moderate drinking patterns can breathe a sigh of relief as the risk is far lower fro them. The study was led by Dr. Amy Fan, of the Prevention Research Center, and will be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).
It also indicated that the increased risks were independent of the total amount of alcohol consumed over a lifetime, or whether or not people stopped or curtailed drinking as they matured. "To fully understand the effect of alcohol consumption on health, you need to consider lifetime drinking patterns," said senior co-author of the study Dr. Marcia Russell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation's Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif.,
She added: "Early initiation of alcohol drinking and heavy drinking in adolescence and early adulthood seem to be associated with a number of adverse health effects collectively known as the metabolic syndrome." Metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of metabolic risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The exact cause of this syndrome is unknown, but genetic factors, too much body fat (especially in the waist area), and lack of exercise increase the risk of developing the condition.
The research was based on data from the Western New York Health Study (WNYHS), conducted between 1996 and 2001. This study retrospectively collected lifestyle information on more than 2,800 people who reported that they were regular drinkers at one point in their lives. The study also collected data on the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its individual components, including obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and high fasting glucose.
Two distinct lifetime drinking trajectories among people who were ever regular drinkers were revealed by WNYHS study. Drinking trajectory refers to the variability in drinking behavior over the span of a person's lifetime. Early peak lifetime trajectories were characterized by early and heavy drinking followed by a sharp reduction in alcohol intake whereas stable trajectories involved more moderate intakes over a longer period of life. Lifetime drinking patterns included total years of drinking, first and last age of regular drinking, total volume of alcohol consumed, and many other factors.
Early peak drinkers were, on average, 10 years younger than stable drinkers. Despite this age difference, the early peak drinkers still had a modestly higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Russell said, "Drinking patterns associated with early peak and stable drinking trajectories were distinctly different."
"Early peak drinkers generally began drinking earlier than stable drinkers. They drank fewer years, less frequently, and consumed less volume of alcohol over their lifetimes, but averaged more drinks per drinking day and had higher rates of episodic heavy drinking and intoxication," he added.
It was speculated that the reason for the increased risk for metabolic syndrome found in the study may be associated with the adverse health effects of early unhealthy drinking patterns, which were carried over to later life. Also, early peak drinkers may have adopted other lifestyle habits detrimental to cardio-metabolic health.