London: A new study has indicated that Belfast`s binge drinking culture could be behind the country`s high rates of heart disease.
The study, which compares drinking patterns of middle aged men in France and Belfast, found that the volume of alcohol consumed over a week in both countries is almost identical. However, in Belfast alcohol tends to be drunk over one or two days rather than regularly throughout the week as in France.
The research also finds that the average amount of alcohol consumed in Belfast over the weekend is around 2-3 times higher than 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.
Over a ten year period, Ruidavets and colleagues assessed the alcohol consumption of 9,758 men from three centres in France (Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse) and Belfast. The participants were free from heart disease when the research started in 1991 and were between the ages of 50 to 59.
The participants were divided into never drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers and binge drinkers. The ``drinkers`` were asked via interviews and questionnaires about the volume of alcohol they consumed on a weekly and daily basis and also about the type of beverage. Cardiovascular risk factors, such as age, tobacco use, level of physical activity, blood pressure, and waist circumference were also taken into account.
The results show 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.
In the study, binge drinking is defined as excessive alcohol consumption (over 50g) drunk over a short period of time, for example on one day during the weekend (50g of alcohol equates to 4-5 drinks, and a drink to 125ml of wine or a half pint of beer).
The researchers write: "We found that alcohol consumption patterns differed radically in the two countries: in Belfast most men`s alcohol intake was concentrated on one day of the weekend (Saturday), whereas in the three French centres studied alcohol consumption was spread more evenly throughout the entire week."
They add: "the prevalence of binge drinking, which doubled the risk of ischaemic heart disease compared with regular drinking, was almost 20 times higher in Belfast than in the French centres."
Another reason for the higher risk of heart disease in Belfast, say the authors, could be that more people tend to drink beer and spirits than wine. In France, wine is the main alcoholic drink of choice and established research has concluded that drinking a moderate about of wine can protect against heart disease.
The study has been published in bmj.com.