It doesn't matter if you were fired on your birthday or dumped via a text message made up of mostly emojis — don't go out and get hammered. Even one episode of binge drinking can have major negative effects on your health, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Published online in Plos One, the study finds that binge drinking causes your gut to leak bacterial toxins into your bloodstream in the form of endotoxins, which cause the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation, and tissue destruction.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08g/dL or above. This translates to about five or more drinks in two hours for men and four more drinks for women, depending on body weight.
While researchers are very familiar with the long-term effects of binge drinking and alcohol consumption in general, such as liver damage and heart disease, this new discovery sheds light on the alarming damage just one episode can inflict...even if the episode was really, really fun.
"We found that a single alcohol binge can elicit an immune response, potentially impacting the health of an otherwise healthy individual," said lead study author Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, vice chair of the Department of Medicine and associate dean for clinical and translational sciences at UMMS, in a statement. "Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought."
For the study, 11 men and 14 women were given enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol content levels to .08 g/dL within an hour. Blood samples were then taken every 30 minutes over the next four hours, and then again 24 hours later.
Szabo and her team found a rapid increase in endotoxin levels in the participants' blood. The alcohol had essentially broken the walls off the cells that contain the endotoxins. And evidence of bacterial DNA in the bloodstream showed that bacteria had permeated the gut. Gut permeability is a major effect that alcohol consumption has on the body, leading to many of the health issues related to chronic drinking. It basically means that potentially harmful products get through your intestinal wall and travel to other parts of the body, like, say, the liver.
Compared to the men in the study, the women had higher blood alcohol levels and circulating endotoxin levels.
So, ladies, that means the next time life throws you some hurdles and all you want to do is go out with the girls and drink your pain away, you're better off going on a yoga retreat together. And if the study isn't enough to convince you, here are all the other health issues related to binge drinking.
- Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
- Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
- Alcohol poisoning
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintended pregnancy
- Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Sexual dysfunction, and
- Poor control of diabetes.
And if that still isn't enough, take a look at how much binge drinking is costing you — literally.
- Binge drinking cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006 alone.
- Binge drinking cost federal, state, and local governments about 62 cents per drink in 2006, while federal and state income from taxes on alcohol totaled only about 12 cents per drink.
May I suggest blowing off steam with some exercise instead?