Liz Donovan '07

The association between alcohol consumption and C-reactive protein levels in college-aged individuals

Purpose: Current screening methods fail to identify over half of individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease. C-Reactive protein (CRP), an acute phase protein and marker for inflammation, is highly correlated with cardiovascular disease and is a promising new screening tool. Many factors, such as alcohol, medications, physical activity, and excess body fat, affect CRP levels.  Alcohol intake results in a J-shaped response curve for CRP in individuals over forty years. This study examines the effect of alcohol consumption on CRP levels in college aged individuals. Binge drinking is prevalent in college aged individuals potentially increasing CRP levels.

Methods:  College-aged individuals completed surveys which assessed factors that can affect CRP levels, such as medication use, smoking habits, recent weight loss, and alcohol consumption patterns. Three groups, non-drinkers (N=6), moderate drinkers (N=10), and heavy drinkers (N=9), were matched based on survey responses. C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) was measured using reflectance photometry. This research was approved by the institutional review board.

Results: The average CRP level across all alcohol consumption patterns was 0.9 mg/L (low risk for cardiovascular disease). Moderate drinkers had significantly lower CRP levels (0.58mg/L) than heavy drinkers (1.25 mg/L; p=.041), but there was no significant difference between CRP levels of moderate drinkers and non-drinkers (0.85 mg/L; p=.343). Males had higher CRP levels than females, but this difference did not reach statistical significance (p=.09).

Conclusions: There is a J-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and CRP levels in college-aged individuals, agreeing with trends found in older adults. If CRP levels are predictive of future risk for cardiovascular disease, college aged individuals may be beginning this pattern, which is an additional reason to be concerned about heavy drinking in college-aged individuals.

Elizabeth Donovan's presentation at the American Heart Association Conference in Chicago, April 19, 2007.
Elizabeth Donovan collecting a blood sample to conduct a CRP test
Liz Donovan presenting her research for the College of Saint Benedict Board.

 Research Advisor: Amy Olson, PhD, RDN, LD