The amount of plaque, as well as the number of immune cells that cause inflammation and clogged arteries, decreased in the daily-moderate mice. The opposite was true for the binge-drinking mice, the investigators found.
Meanwhile, despite similar starting weights and diets, the binge-drinking mice gained more than three times as much weight as the moderate mice and about twice as much weight as the control mice.
"Because obesity is also a risk factor for disease, binge drinking may have a strong negative impact on cardiovascular health," Lucy Liaw, research committee chair of the American Heart Association's Founders Affiliate, noted in the news release.
Based on the study's findings, the researchers suggested that health care professionals should ask how their patients drink when considering their risk for atherosclerosis.
"This evidence is very interesting because it supports a pattern of drinking that is emerging in clinical studies as both safe and seemingly most protective against heart disease -- frequent consumption of limited amounts of alcohol. This certainly backs up widespread clinical guidelines that limit drinking to one drink daily for non-pregnant women and two drinks daily for men," Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated in the news release.
The study authors pointed out that exactly how moderate amounts of alcohol benefit heart health -- or how heavy drinking hurts it -- remains unknown. They added, however, that the nearly 15 percent of Americans who binge drink (as estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) should be aware of the risks to their health.
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