Drinking alcohol heavily over years may prematurely age your arteries — increasing heart disease risk, according to a U.K. study.

Researchers found that men were more likely to be heavy drinkers and were at risk for accelerated rates of arterial stiffness that interferes with blood flow compared with moderate drinkers.

The findings support previous research on moderate alcohol consumption’s association with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.

“It’s been suggested alcohol intake may increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels — the good cholesterol — or decrease platelet stickiness,” said Darragh O’Neill, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an epidemiological researcher at University College London. “Conversely, heavier alcohol intake may activate certain enzymes that would lead to collagen accumulation, which could in turn exacerbate the rate of arterial stiffening.”

In the study, researchers measured alcohol intake periodically over 25 years and subsequently looked at how long-term intake patterns were associated with pulse wave velocity and its progression over a four- to five-year interval. Pulse wave velocity is pulse waves between the main arteries in the neck and thigh. The greater the velocity, the stiffer the artery.

At the initial alcohol assessment, participants were in their 30s to 50s, and none had a history of heart disease. Few of the participants were current smokers and 68 percent of men and 74 percent of women didn’t get the recommended amount of exercise. Among both men and women, one in 10 had Type 2 diabetes.

Consistent long-term heavy drinking was defined as more than 3.9 ounces of ethanol per week — or 14 U.K. units, where one unit is roughly equivalent to one serving of alcoholic spirit, half a pint of beer, or half a glass of wine. Consistent moderate drinking was 3.9 ounces or less of ethanol per week.

The American Heart Association defines moderate alcohol consumption as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk for alcohol dependency, cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, stroke, certain types of cancer, suicide and accidents.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.