A study comparing the drinking habits of France and Belfast has found that binge drinking can increase the risk of heart disease.
They found the amount of alcohol consumed in both countries was similar but in Belfast, the alcohol was drunk over one or two days rather than spread out across the week in France.
The researchers, led by Dr Jean-Bernard Ruidavets from Toulouse University, investigated whether drinking patterns in Northern Ireland and France were linked to the known disparity in heart disease between these two culturally diverse countries.
Their study, which appears in the journal British Medical Journal, examined the alcohol consumption of 9758 men from three centres in France (Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse) and Belfast.
At the start of the study (1991), the participants were free from heart disease and were between the ages of 50 to 59.
Researchers found that the men who 'binge' drink had nearly twice the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared to regular drinkers over the 10 years of follow up.
The study defined binge drinking as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks (50 grams of alcohol) in one session at least once a week.
Cardiovascular risk factors, such as age, tobacco use, level of physical activity, blood pressure, and waist circumference were also taken into account.
Another explanation for the increase heart disease risk could be the choice of beverage. Drinkers in Belfast were more likely to drink beer and spirits, while French drinkers chose wine.
Other associated factors
In a commentary appearing in the same issue of the British Medical Journal, Dr Annie Britton of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London says the study highlights the impact of binge drinking.
"Middle-aged men should be made aware that if they are irregular heavy drinkers, the possible cardioprotective properties of alcohol consumption may not apply to them, and, in contrast, they may be putting themselves at increased risk of having a heart attack," says Britton.
She says, while the study accounted for several external factors, it failed to take into account diet and the differing behaviour associated with wine and beer consumption.
"The favourable profile of wine is often typified by drinking it slowly while socialising over dinner," says Britton. "In contrast, the less favourable profile of beer and spirits conjures up images of binge drinking pints of lager followed by shots of spirits in the local pub.
"It is not hard to imagine that factors other than the type of alcohol or drinking pattern are important in the relation between alcohol and heart disease."
Britton adds, regardless of pattern of consumption, drinkers of alcohol "should be reminded that they are increasing their risk of many other diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver, chronic pancreatitis, and several kinds of cancer."