Smoking And Drinking Can Damage Arteries ‘Very Early in Life’

Source: University College London

Summary: The arteries of teenagers who drink alcohol and smoke, even very occasionally, are already beginning to stiffen by age 17, according to research.

Arterial stiffness indicates damage to the blood vessels, which predicts heart and blood vessel problems in later life, such as heart attacks and stroke. The new research findings by the UCL researchers showed that a combination of high alcohol intake and smoking was linked to even greater arterial damage compared to drinking and smoking separately. The research team analyzed data from 1,266 adolescents from Children of the 90s, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), over a five-year period between 2004 and 2008. They also found that if teenagers stopped smoking and drinking during adolescence, their arteries returned to normal suggesting that there are opportunities to preserve arterial health from a young age. This combination of drinking and smoking in adolescence, even at lower levels compared to those reported in adult studies, is associated with arterial stiffening and atherosclerosis progression. The study findings were published in the journal European Heart Journal.

Smoking and boozing

Credit: CC0 Public Domain


Participants provided details of their smoking and drinking habits at ages 13, 15 and 17. Aortic stiffening was then assessed using a Vicorder device to measure carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (the speed at which the arterial pulse propagates through the circulatory system). Participants recorded the number of cigarettes they had ever smoked and were grouped by intensity from ‘low’ (0-20 cigarettes) to ‘moderate’ (20-99 cigarettes) to ‘high’ (more than 100 cigarettes). Exposure to parental smoking was also assessed by questionnaires. Teenagers in the ‘high’ intensity smoking group had a relative increase of 3.7% in the stiffening of their arteries (measured by a mean increase in pulse wave velocity) compared to those in the ‘low’ smoking intensity group. Participants in the ‘high smoking and ‘high’ drinking intensity group had a relative increase of 10.8% in the stiffening of their arteries compared to those who had never smoked and low alcohol consumers.

Dr. Marietta Charakida said, “The age at which participants started drinking alcohol was not associated with arterial health, suggesting that duration of exposure might not be that important at this young age” and further added, “In addition, no beneficial effect of low alcohol consumption was found with regards to arterial health.”

More Information: Marietta Charakida et al, “Early vascular damage from smoking and alcohol in teenage years: the ALSPAC study”, European Heart Journal, DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy524

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