The tobacco use and alcohol leaves its mark on teenagers almost from the first cigarette or the first puff. In addition, the damage of both drugs, which are often consumed at the same time by the same people, accumulates, according to a study with information of the ALSPAC cohort, which collects data on 14,000 British teenagers and has published European Heart Journal.
To reach the conclusion, the researchers, led by Marietta Charakida of University College London, have measured the speed of the blood pulse that goes from the carotid to the femoral artery (PWV) in young people who do not smoke or drink, in those who smoke, those who drink and those who do both. "This measure is used to study arterial damage and vessel stiffness, which is why it is a marker that gives us information about the possibility of developing arterial disease earlier," explains Vicente Arrate, president of the Vascular Risk and Cardiac Rehabilitation section of the Spanish Society of Cardiology (SEC). In a summarized way, adolescents who do not drink or smoke have a speed of this pulse of about 5.7 meters per second on average. If you drink or smoke, this value rises to around 5.8. "One of the most significant points of this record is that those who stopped smoking during the follow-up regained their arterial health," says the cardiologist.
Arrate clarifies, however, that the relationship between this way of measuring arterial stiffness and cardiovascular events is well studied in older people and not in young people. "When we talk about these risks we talk about probabilities, and that is very difficult to determine, what is clear is that the effect appears from the first glasses and that if habits are not changed, it will increase", he adds. With PWV it does not happen as with blood pressure or cholesterol, where there are limits to values that are considered healthy, warns Arrate. But literature offers some clues, such as a study about Alzheimer's in which older people were analyzed and the cut was set at 12 meters per second, or another of the Argentine Alejandro Díaz in which he established an average for the whole population of his country of 6.84, with an average of 5.04 for those under 19 and 9.01 for those over 70.
Apart from the numerical issue, the work highlights another aspect. "Contrary to what they seem to believe, adolescents are not immune" to the effect of these substances, as it shows that there are already anomalies in people who have been using drugs for a short time (the study ends when they are 17 years old and the age of onset is between 14 and 15 years old).
But the conclusion is not so much medical, but educational and social. In Spain, for example, the last Survey on drug use in students of the Ministry of Health (Estudes), shows that 1.2 million adolescents admitted that they had taken alcohol in 2016 and half a million said they had used tobacco. That means there are between 1.2 and 1.5 million teenagers who are already suffering this damage.
However, Carlos Macaya, president of the Spanish Heart Foundation, points out that at those ages the damage is reversible: "Bearing in mind that at these ages it is possible to restore normal arterial stiffness if consumption ceases, it is important to try to make adolescents understand as soon as possible that being young does not make one immune to cardiovascular disease. "