Going Dry: The Benefits Of A Month Without Booze : The Salt : NPR

As New Year’s resolutions go, cutting back on food and drink are right at the top of the list. And while those vowing to change their eating habits may cut the carbohydrates or say a sweet goodbye to sugar, for regular drinkers, the tradition may involve what’s known as a “dry January”: giving up booze for a month.

But could such a short-term breakup with alcohol really impart any measurable health benefits?

The staff at the magazine New Scientist decided to find out, using themselves as guinea pigs. The findings of their small but intriguing experiment suggest the answer is a resounding yes.

The magazine is based in the U.K., where the dry January concept has been gaining traction, thanks to an annual campaign by the charity Alcohol Concern. In late 2013, 14 healthy New Scientist employees filled out lifestyle questionnaires, underwent ultrasounds and gave blood samples. Then, 10 of them gave up alcohol for five weeks, while four of them continued drinking normally.

“Normal” drinking for the New Scientist group ranged from 10 units of alcohol per week — the equivalent of about eight 12-ounce bottles of regular-strength beer — to 80 units, or 64 beers, per week. Those numbers may seem high, but in Britain, where drinking is a national pastime, the group’s supervising doctor told them none were problem drinkers. (Incidentally, Britain’s National Health Service recommends no more than 14 to 21 alcohol units per week.)

The results of these changes were significant enough to make you put down your pint and take notice.

Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a liver specialist at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, analyzed the findings. They revealed that among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent. For some, it fell almost 20 percent.

via Going Dry: The Benefits Of A Month Without Booze : The Salt : NPR.


If you’re over 60, drink up: Alcohol associated with better memory — ScienceDaily

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, University of Kentucky, and University of Maryland found that for people 60 and older who do not have dementia, light alcohol consumption during late life is associated with higher episodic memory — the ability to recall memories of events.

Moderate alcohol consumption was also linked with a larger volume in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for episodic memory. The relationship between light alcohol consumption and episodic memory goes away if hippocampal volume is factored in, providing new evidence that hippocampal functioning is the critical factor in these improvements. These findings were detailed in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

via If you’re over 60, drink up: Alcohol associated with better memory — ScienceDaily.

Seeking Proof For Why We Feel Terrible After Too Many Drinks : The Salt : NPR

Really interesting article. Click through to read more

On a hangover being an inflammatory response

[Scientists] finally have a survey instrument that they can give somebody and assess, “You have a Level 9 hangover, and you have a Level 7 hangover,” and they finally started to see that overlap with both migraine and also an inflammatory response, so the kind of thing you would have if you had the flu — where you feel achy and you feel slow and your brain doesn’t work as fast and [you have] general malaise. Looking at that, they can go, “K, let’s see if in fact this is an inflammation.”

If you look at people with hangovers, the same markers in the blood that you would see with an inflammatory response, things like cytokines, for example — which are molecule[s] that the immune [system] uses to talk to itself — actually do seem elevated, and even better, you can induce what looks like a hangover by giving somebody those same molecules. … That’s good news because if you say, “Well, it’s an inflammatory response,” then maybe I can go with anti-inflammatory drugs, and we have those.

via Seeking Proof For Why We Feel Terrible After Too Many Drinks : The Salt : NPR.

CNN – Wine or your waistline? 3 rules to follow

By Sunny Sea Gold, Health.com

Opting for a rosé or white wine instead of a heavier red can trim about 10 calories per glass.
Opting for a rosé or white wine instead of a heavier red can trim about 10 calories per glass.

  • Alcohol can add hundreds of calories to your diet
  • But there are ways to imbibe wisely and avoid putting on pounds
  • Always eat when you drink, experts say
  • Know that some drinks may make you hungrier than others

(CNN) — Let’s face it, sometimes there’s nothing better at the end of a long day than a glass of wine.

But sipping much more than that can wreak havoc with your shape, and not just by adding hundreds of calories to your diet. Alcohol temporarily keeps your body from burning fat, explains integrative medicine specialist Dr. Pamela M. Peeke, author of the book “The Hunger Fix.”

The reason is that your body can’t store calories from alcohol for later, the way it does with food calories. So when you drink, your metabolic system must stop what it’s doing (like, say, burning off calories from your last meal) to get rid of the booze.

“Drinking presses ‘pause’ on your metabolism, shoves away the other calories, and says, ‘Break me down first!'” Peeke explains. The result is that whatever you recently ate gets stored as fat.

What’s worse: “Research has uncovered that alcohol especially decreases fat burn in the belly,” Peeke adds. “That’s why you never hear about ‘beer hips’ — you hear about a ‘beer belly.'”

So can you ever enjoy a drink without putting on pounds? Absolutely, if you imbibe the right way.

In fact, large, long-term studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and International Journal of Obesity found that middle-aged and older women who drank moderately (about one drink a day) gained less weight over time than those who never imbibed at all; they were also less likely to become obese.

It’s a complex topic, but Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the studies, says that the moderate drinkers appeared to be more likely to compensate for the occasional drinks by taking in fewer calories from other sources and also tended to be a little more physically active. (In other words, they didn’t get blitzed on margaritas, then dive in to a bowl of fried ice cream.)

What else beyond basic exercise and calorie-counting can keep happy hour from turning into hefty hour? Health magazine dug into the research and grilled the experts on how you can have your sips and jeans that still zip.

Rule #1: Always eat when you drink

While the Harvard research suggests it’s wise to factor in those cocktail calories, it’s actually more important to eat right than to eat less, the experts stress. Skimping on food in order to “make room” for drinks will only backfire and send you straight to the bottom of the candied nut bowl.

Here’s why: Most cocktails are loaded with simple carbohydrates, “so during a night of drinking, people end up with soaring blood sugar, followed by a ‘crash’ that leaves them ravenous,” says Dr. Jason Burke, an anesthesiologist and hangover researcher who runs a hangover treatment clinic in (where else?) Las Vegas.

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Mixing Alcohol With Diet Soda May Make You Drunker : The Salt : NPR

Mixing Alcohol With Diet Soda May Make You Drunker


February 05, 2013 4:11 PM

Looking to cut back on the calories in your cocktail by mixing, say, diet soda and rum? Well, get ready for the buzz.

According to the results of a new study, this combination will leave you drunker than if you’d mixed the liquor with a sugary, caloric mixer.

“Alcohol, consumed with a diet mixer, results in higher (BrAC) Breath Alcohol Concentrations as compared to the same amount of alcohol consumed with a sugar-sweetened mixer,” says Cecile Marczinski, a cognitive psychologist who authored the new study.

Why? Turns out that sugar slows down the absorption of alcohol from the stomach to the bloodstream.

“In other words, it is not that diet soda accelerates intoxication. Rather, the sugar in regular soda slows down the rate of alcohol absorption,” explains Dennis Thombs, a professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. He published a paper with similar findings.

So what was the motivation for the new study? “I wanted to know if the choice of a mixer could be the factor that puts a person above or below the legal limit,” writes Marczinski, who’s a professor at Northern Kentucky University.

And it turns out, diet soda might just push you past that tipping point. Marczinski’s study found that the average BrAC was .091 (at its peak) when subjects drank alcohol mixed with a diet drink. By comparison, BrAC was .077 when the same subjects consumed the same amount of alcohol but with a sugary soda.

“I was a little surprised by the findings, since the 18% increase in BrAC was a fairly large difference,” Marczinski tells The Salt via email.

Marczinski says she also wanted to determine if the volunteers in her study (eight women, eight men) would notice any differences between the two mixers. Not so much, it turns out.

The subjects didn’t report feeling more impaired or intoxicated after drinking the diet soda mixer, compared to the sugary soda. Experts say this may put them at an increased risk of drinking and driving.

The study is being published in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

via Mixing Alcohol With Diet Soda May Make You Drunker : The Salt : NPR.

A warning for everyone pre New Years…. ;)

Why Cheap Booze Makes Your Hangover So Horrible

You. You’re out drinking with your friends, matching them round for round. They’re sippin’ fancy whiskey, but you’re saving money, sticking with the well specials. So why is it, halfway through the night, you’re suddenly hit with a brutal headache, and everybody else is fine?

It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve made it through the long week, and it’s time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo’s weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Shhhh, my brain!

First off, let’s set the record straight. Just because something is inexpensive, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Tito’s vodka, for instance, doesn’t cost much, but it can go head-to-head in flavor and purity with uber-expensive topshelf brands. So when we say “cheap” what we really mean is “low-quality.” That said, Tito’s is more the exception than the rule, and cheap stuff is generally more likely to be low-quality.

The Presence of Congeners

Congeners, also known as fusil oils, are a byproduct of the mash fermentation process. They are, essentially, impurities. There are hundreds of types of congeners, some of which are higher-order alcohols (i.e. non-ethanol) that our bodies can’t really process. Essentially, our bodies treat them as a poison, and a headache is a very common symptom of poison processing. That said, different people may be better or worse at metabolizing and flushing these toxins.

Because all alcoholic beverages begin with fermentation, any type of booze is liable to have congeners. It is widely believed that because cheaper alcoholic beverages begin with lower-quality ingredients, more congeners are likely to be produced at the fermentation stage.

Purity Through Distilling

Say you have a big vat of fermented liquid and you want to turn it into a high-proof spirit. That means distilling it. Each time it goes through the distilling process, more and more congeners and impurities (which may cause headaches) are removed. Tito’s, as an example again, is distilled six times. If you are buying bottom-shelf vodka, you’ll be lucky if it was distilled twice. This process lends some credence to the idea that the cheap stuff is harder on your brain.

Filtration is another way that vodka brands attempt to clear out impurities. We made an activated-carbon filter and ran some terrible vodka through it. It actually made the booze a lot better. Bottom-self brands typically do the minimum for filtration because they’re made en masse, and, after all, nobody is buying Georgi for the subtle and nuanced flavor.

Turn Away From the Dark Side

Darker spirits, like brandy, whisky, and cognac, tend to have higher concentrations of congeners than their clear brethren—vodka, gin, or white rum. (Tequila is an exception.) This isn’t a cheap vs. expensive thing, though, it’s simply a difference in the distillation process. The mark of a good vodka is no flavor, whereas whiskey should have a distinct flavor.

Congeners are an important part of that equation. An experienced distiller actually cuts the spirit with trace parts of the congener-heavy parts of the distillation run. In the right quantity, it gives whiskey its characteristic bite. Whiskeys are also barrel-aged. As the spirits sit in a barrel over a period of months or years, the liquid leaches flavor, color, and other chemicals out of the wood. This may be even more exaggerated in bourbon, which is aged in charred barrels.

These chemicals all affect different people in different ways. But the major distinction between high and low-end whiskeys (or whiskys, if we’re talking Scotch) begins with what happens before it goes into the barrel for aging. It depends on the quality of the grains used from the outset, and thus how pure the distillate is in the first place. It matters how careful the distiller is with the way the spirit is cut. Distillers can still bottle up a whiskey made with a dirtier spirit—you can simply mask the problems with the intense flavors of barrel aging.

The Red Wine Puzzle

You often hear that cheap red wine causes the worst headaches. There is actually a medical term called Red Wine Headache. The thing is, its exact causes are not understood, and the comparative price of a wine doesn’t seem to be a factor, as every extremely expensive wines can cause Red Wine Headache. The leading cause seems to be histamines, which are present in grape skins. White wine, which is made without the skins, has far fewer histamines in it, and is much less likely to cause a headache. The histamine content can change from vintage to vintage. A year of bad growing weather can cause a significant spike in the histamines produced, and so a wine that didn’t give you a headache last year can make a bomb go off in your brain this year.

Another factor is sugar content. Here is a time the cheap wines may be a culprit—they’re often very sugary. Something like a cheap wine cooler may even have sugar added to it. Adding sugar to grape juice can accelerate the fermentation process, but this typically leads to an inferior type of alcohol. Also, the added sugar will cause a spike in your blood-sugar. When it comes crashing down, headaches are a common side effect. Liqueurs, candy-like spirits, and very sweet cocktails may have the same effect.

But Really…

Drinking any alcoholic beverage, especially to excess, can lead to a headache and a bad hangover. The root of it all is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic. It makes you pee more, which means less water for your internal organs. Your organs then try to borrow water from anywhere they can, including your brain. As your brain dehydrates, it slightly contracts. This strains the connective tissue that holds your brain in your skull, resulting in a screaming headache. In other words, stay hydrated as you drink. Don’t wait for the headache to start coming on. Once you’re suffering, it can be difficult to recover, even if you pound water faster than a round of free shots.

Ultimately, if you’re going to be drinking, you’re putting your brain in harm’s way. But evidence supports splurging on the good stuff. So when your wife wants to know why you blew all that money on a nice bottle of bourbon, just pour it neat and raise a glass—to your health, honey.



PS – I am done with finals and the holidays. Hope to be posting regularly again soon!

Alcohol and Weight Loss (Debbie downer time)

Alcohol and Weight Loss. by sparkpeople

Alcohol and weight loss are enemies, but an occasional drink can have a place in a healthy lifestyle. In fact, many experts note the potential health benefits of consuming a single drink per day, including a reduced risk for high blood pressure If, however, you are exceeding one drink daily, you might be sabotaging your weight loss plans.

Alcohol is metabolized differently than other foods and beverages. Under normal conditions, your body gets its energy from the calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are slowly digested and absorbed within the gastrointestinal system. However, this digestive process changes when alcohol is present. When you drink alcohol, it gets immediate attention (because it is viewed by the body as a toxin) and needs no digestion.

On an empty stomach, the alcohol molecules diffuse through the stomach wall quickly and can reach the brain and liver in minutes. This process is slower when you have food in your stomach, but as soon as that food enters the small intestine, the alcohol grabs first priority and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream.

When the body is focused on processing alcohol, it is not able to properly break down foods containing carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, these calories are converted into body fat and are carried away for permanent storage on your body.