A recent Dutch study may have found why moderate alcohol use can be healthy and binge drinking can be harmful.
The study, published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that the difference is due to alcohol’s effect on blood platelets.
Effects platelet aggregation
Platelets are the disk-shaped cells responsible for forming clots and repairing small breaks in the walls of blood vessels. When people binge on alcohol, it increases platelet aggregation, meaning more platelets stick together. Binge drinking also inhibits platelet adhesion, meaning platelets won't stick as readily to a damaged vessel wall.
While preventing platelets from adhering to vessel walls is positive in theory, it may prevent blood vessels from clogging and starve the heart or brain of needed oxygen. But at binge-consumption levels, it's doubtful any benefit from diminished adhesion would completely compensate for the increase in platelet aggregation.
Alcohol hindered adhesion
For the study, 20 healthy volunteers drank either three glasses of alcohol or red wine in a 45-minute period. Another 45 minutes were allowed for the alcohol to be absorbed. Blood samples were collected 90 minutes after the start of the experiment. The entire cycle was repeated, resulting in the volunteers consuming six drinks in three hours.
Researchers looked at whether platelets from the participants adhered to collagen or fibrinogen, two proteins that are exposed when the normal internal lining of a vessel is damaged. At the rate of blood flow normally found in vessels that are narrowed by atherosclerosis, alcohol inhibited platelet adhesion to fibrinogen.
1. D.W. De Lange; et al, “Rapid Intake of Alcohol (Binge Drinking) Inhibits Platelet Adhesion to Fibrinogen Under Flow,” Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, October 2004, 28:10.