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Drinking and smoking damages heart by age 17



Teenagers who drink and smoke, even occasionally, are already getting stiff arteries by the age of 17, research suggests.

The research by University College London (UCL) also showed a combination of high alcohol intake and smoking was linked to even greater arterial damage compared with drinking and smoking separately.

However, if teenagers stopped smoking and drinking during adolescence, their arteries returned to normal, the findings showed.

Arterial stiffness indicates damage to the blood vessels, which predicts heart and blood vessel problems in later life such as heart attacks and stroke.

Researchers analysed 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.

Participants provided details of their smoking and drinking habits at 13, 15 and 17.

The findings were published in the European Heart Journal.

Teenagers in the high intensity smoking group had a relative increase of 3.7% in the stiffening of their arteries – measured by mean increase in pulse wave velocity – compared with those in the low smoking intensity group.

Those who tended to binge drink – more than 10 drinks in a typical drinking day, with the aim of becoming drunk – had a relative increase of 4.7% in the stiffening of their arteries compared with light intensity drinkers.

Participants in the high smoking and heavy drinking intensity group had a relative increase of 10.8% in the stiffening of arteries compared with those who had never smoked and low alcohol consumers.

Dr Marietta Charakida said: “Injury to the blood vessels occurs very early in life as a result of smoking and drinking and the two together are even more damaging.

“Although studies have shown teenagers are smoking less in recent years, our findings indicated approximately one in five teenagers were smoking by the age of 17.

In families where parents were smokers, teenagers were more likely to smoke.

“Governments and policy-makers need to devise and implement effective educational strategies, starting in childhood, to discourage children and teenagers from adopting smoking and bad drinking habits.

“They should also be told about the benefits of stopping these unhealthy behaviours.”

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