Category Archives: Food & Bev

No, moderate drinking is NOT healthier

No, this is NOT necessarily “heart healthy.”

It seems like every several months, though, there’s a new story out touting the health benefits of moderate drinking. Often, but not always, it seems focused on not just the alcohol, but on certain microchemicals in red wine. These studies all claim that the moderate drinking, and especially the wine, are “heart healthy.”

If you’re like me, even if these studies don’t have liquor industry sponsorship, you may wonder how accurate they are.

Perhaps not so much, according to a big new study which says moderate drinking is often NOT healthy. It’s actually a meta-study of a number of previous studies, and it says all those other studies dropped the ball by missing the genetics angle:

They found that those with a form of a gene tied to lower levels of drinking generally had healthier hearts. The gene affects how a person’s body breaks down alcohol, resulting in unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and facial flushing. Having this variant has been shown to lead to lower drinking over the long term, the researchers explained.

But the new study authors went beyond that:

“While the damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the heart are well-established, for the last few decades we’ve often heard reports of the potential health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking,” study senior author Juan Casas, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a university news release. “However, we now have evidence that some of these studies suffer from limitations that may affect the validity of their findings.

“In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.”

So, don’t let the “lizard voice” or “addict voice” or whatever tempt you into believing you’re being healthy by grabbing that Merlot! It’s not true.

And (shockingly!) the authors note one other problem with most of these previous studies:

“Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty, in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits,” Dr. Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said in the news release “Here the researchers used a clever study design to get round this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less.”

A drinker trying to pretend his or her drinking not accurately reporting drinking amounts for a study? Noooo!

So, there you go … stay sober and stay healthy.

 

Coming soon: The possibility for ‘bulimic alcoholics’?

Broken wine glassThat’s my bottom-line takeaway from this new story in Britain’s The Independent newspaper.

Let’s start here:

Scientists are developing a drug which mimics all the positive effects of being drunk without any of the health risks, addiction – or hangovers.

And then ask how realistic that is. In my opinion, as the rest of the story demonstrates, not a lot. And, it leads to the rhetorical question of my headline.

We go next to this:

The “serious revolution in health” is being pioneered by the former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, and has been described as doing for alcohol what the e-cigarette has done for tobacco use.

Uhh, wrong right there! As far as his claims about this new drug, the analogy is wrong, because the verdict is still out, to a fair extent, on the e-cig. (Apologies to any e-cig users reading this.) A Google search of “e-cigarette” + “dangers” gets more than 7 million hits. Those include the fact that e-cigs have their own toxic vapors and have not been proven to help people quit cigarettes, as noted in this story.

Meanwhile, back to our story at hand, now that we know our good professor is wrong about e-cigs and we know to be skeptical.

Here’s where my “bulimic alcoholics” angle comes in:

It targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the taker feelings of pleasure and disinhibition that are in some cases “indistinguishable” from the effects of drinking. Yet because it acts directly, it can also be immediately blocked by taking an antidote – with “drinkers” potentially able to then drive or return to work straight away.

So, get “drunk” for an hour, take the “antidote” (interesting that its called that), then get “drunk” again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Finally, the good ex-drugs advisor has not a clue, it seems, about the mental and psychological components of addiction.

 

‘Drunkorexia’ a new problem, especially for young

SkinnyWine

Alcoholic beverages like this wine or “light” beer may fuel the “drunkorexia” problem.

I had never even heard of such a word as “drunkorexia” until an Atlantic Monthly story caught my eye.

Here’s the gist: Young people, especially young women, worried enough about calories that they severely cut back their eating to “allow” for the calories of alcohol.

And, it’s a serious issue:

(Adam) Barry examined 22,000 college students across 40 universities and found that, even after controlling for race, school year, Greek affiliation and whether a student lived on campus (the authors did not control for whether a respondent played on a sports team), vigorous exercise, and disordered eating uniquely predicted binge drinking. In fact, those who exercised or dieted to lose weight were over 20 percent more likely to have five or more drinks in a single sitting. Students who had vomited or used laxatives in the previous month to shed pounds were 76 percent more likely to binge drink.

Add in that an empty stomach absorbs alcohol more quickly, and that alcohol’s nutrient-empty calories don’t help a dieter, and you’re looking at a variety of potential problems.

Per the story, it sounds like it’s a growing issue, too.

For Lifering, that means working to help people help themselves through both alcohol problem and the eating disorder that may also have developed.

More on addiction is in the brain

The New York Times’ Nick Kristof has a good new column about the biochemical nature of addiction, based on its influence on dopamine and other brain chemicals. He’s writing about DavidLinden’s new book, “The Compass of Pleasure,” which I am now reading.

Kristof notes that things like altruism and acts of charity, not just chemical addictions or “process” compulsions/addictions, can light up the pleasure centers of our brain, as can things like exercise. (And yes, the research that Linden notes says that “processes,” i.e., gambling, overeating, and extreme sexual behavior, can become addictive in the same way as chemicals.

More on this below the fold:

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Diet and weight: Not so simple an issue

Salt, fats and refined white flour: it's tempting/Image from Discover magazine

Especially with alcohol vs. drugs that have a strong physical addiction component, such as cocaine or nicotine, addiction is often a mix of physical, psychological and even sociological issues.

For persons struggling with weight, diet and eating issues, this seems to be at least as true. The flip side of that (as I’ve noted here before) is that modern western eating struggles do seem to have a physical component … that is, strong combinations of refined sugars, plus fats and salts, do seem to have some degree of something akin to physical addiction, even as this is still controversial to some.

At the same time, the mental side of food issues itself is complex.

Here’s a good, insightful article on just how much the brain has a large role to playin these issues.

Let’s take a look at some specific takeaways, after the jump

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