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Binge drinking once 'affects health'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
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19th May 2014 – Binge drinking just once can adversely affect your health, according to a new US study.

The research found that an increase in bacterial toxins after a single episode of binge drinking leads to the production of immune cells involved in fever, inflammation and tissue destruction.

Lead author, Dr Gyongyi Szabo, says in a statement: "Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought."

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time. In the UK it's defined as drinking more than 8 units of alcohol – or about 3 pints of strong beer, for men. For women, it’s drinking more than 6 units of alcohol, equivalent to 2 large glasses of wine.

This new study was carried out by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School on binge drinking. In the US binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08g/dL or above. For a typical adult, this corresponds with consuming five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, in about 2 hours, depending on body weight.

New findings

Binge drinking is known to pose risks associated with car crashes and injuries and, in the long term, can damage the liver and other organs. What's new in this study is the finding that a single alcohol binge can cause damaging health effects resulting in bacteria leaking from the gut, leading to increased levels of toxins in the blood. These bacterial toxins, called endotoxins, cause the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation and tissue destruction

To assess the impact of binge drinking, 11 healthy men and 14 healthy women (aged 21–56) were given enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol levels to at least .08 g/dL within an hour. Blood samples were then taken every 30 minutes for 4 hours after and again 24 hours later.

Dr Szabo and colleagues found that the alcohol binge resulted in a rapid increase in endotoxin levels in the blood. Compared to men, women had higher blood alcohol levels and circulating endotoxin levels.

Earlier studies have tied chronic alcohol use to increased gut permeability, where potentially harmful products can travel through the intestinal wall and be carried to other parts of the body. Greater gut permeability and increased endotoxin levels have been linked to many of the health issues related to chronic drinking, including alcoholic liver disease.

The study was funded by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the findings have been published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Reviewed on May 19, 2014

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