Men who drink more than a pint of beer a day over several years may increase their risk of heart disease by prematurely ageing their arteries, new research suggests.
The study shows that drinking too much alcohol can affect the elasticity of the arterial walls and prematurely age the arteries, interfering with blood flow.
And researchers found that men who used to drink heavily were at risk for accelerated rates of arterial stiffness compared with moderate drinkers who were in early old age.
But booze didn't have the same effect on women, although the researchers pointed out that 73% of the 3,869 participants in the study were men.
The researcher, who looked at boozing habits over a 25-year period, wanted to find out how much alcohol is too much, and at what point does alcohol start to cause damage to the arteries.
Participants ranged in age from their 30s to their 50s, with adjustments made for age, and anyone with a history of heart disease were excluded from the study.
Few of the participants were current smokers, however 68 per cent of the men and 74% of women failed to meet recommended weekly exercise guidelines.
Among both the men and women, one in 10 had Type 2 diabetes.
Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers compared with women, but there were twice as many stable non-drinkers and former drinkers among the women than the men.
Researchers compared the participants' alcohol consumption with carotid-femoral pulse wave artery velocity (PWV) measurements, or pulse waves between the main arteries found in the neck and thigh.
The greater the velocity, the stiffer the artery. Alcohol intake was measured periodically across 25 years and the researchers looked at how those long-term consumption patterns were associated with pulse wave velocity and its progression over a four to five-year interval.
Consistent long-term, heavy drinking was defined in this British study as more than 112 grams (3.9 ounces) of ethanol per week - roughly equivalent to seven pints of beer or cider or seven double whiskeys, vodkas or gins.
Participants reported the number of glasses of wine, pints of beer or cider, and measures of spirits or liqueurs consumed in the week preceding each assessment.
The values were then converted into ethanol volumes. In terms of conversion ratios, 8g of ethanol was assumed for each measure of spirit and 16g for each pint of beer/cider.
The findings were published in Journal of the American Heart Association which defines moderate alcohol consumption as an average of one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women.
One drink is considered as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Excessive boozing increases cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and obesity, stroke, certain types of cancer, suicide and accidents.
Study lead author Doctor Darragh O'Neill, an epidemiologist at University College London, said: "It's been suggested alcohol intake may increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels - the good cholesterol - or decrease platelet stickiness.
"Conversely, heavier alcohol intake may activate certain enzymes that would lead to collagen accumulation, which could, in turn exacerbate the rate of arterial stiffening.
"Based on these findings, the research team wants to look at multiple groups of people - since this study was limited to a single group that was mostly male - and identify the relationship that drinking patterns over time have with other indicators of cardiovascular disease."