Frank Sinatra, famous for his heavy drinking, once said, “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says,” Love your enemy. “
And that sums up our love-hate relationship with alcohol. We know the dangers of heavy drinking, but most of us still enjoy a drink very much.
Despite the pressure of the lockdown, the average amount of alcohol consumed in the UK has not changed much, but where we drink, what we drink and who does it have certainly changed.
According to surveys, a third of us have cut, but another third (mostly men and women in their fifties who have already drank quite a bit) have drank more in the past year.
According to research by the University of Sheffield, there has also been a significant switch from drinking beer to drinking liquor, partly due to the gin trend.
Despite the pressure of the lockdown, the average amount of alcohol consumed in the UK has not changed much, but where we drink, what we drink and who does it have certainly changed
This could help explain the latest tragic numbers, which show there have been 7,423 deaths in the UK from excessive alcohol consumption, the highest in 20 years and a 20 percent increase from 2019.
With the pubs and bars reopening, I fear these numbers will continue to rise in the coming months.
I am particularly interested in alcohol because although I have never drank heavily, I recently reduced alcohol. These days I try to stick to a few glasses of red wine on the weekends.
When I was in medical school, we were taught that there is a U-shaped curve when you drink.
Heavy drinkers and those who abstain are said to be at greater risk of heart disease (and therefore premature death) than moderate drinkers – who average less than two units per day (that’s about a can of heavy stock, a double shot, or a Medium) glass of wine).
Frank Sinatra, famous for his heavy drinking, once said, “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says,“ Love your enemy
As a moderate drinker, I found this very encouraging.
However, since then, many researchers have denied that claim, arguing that the studies suggesting moderate drinking is beneficial are flawed.
One problem is that when researchers compare people who do not drink with moderate drinkers, nondrinkers sometimes include former alcoholics and those in poor health, skewing the obvious benefits of moderate drinking.
Recently, however, there have been a number of careful studies that have again suggested the potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. One such study, presented next week at the American College of Cardiology conference, found that moderate drinking can be good for the heart, at least in part because of its ability to relieve stress.
It was based on the health records of more than 53,000 people – mostly middle-aged women. The researchers found that those who reported moderate alcohol consumption (less than 14 units per week) were 20 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who never drank or less than one unit per week.
What was particularly interesting was that nearly 800 people used high-tech brain scans to get a direct measure of their stress levels. They found that nondrinkers had a higher level of “stress-related activity” in their brains compared to moderate drinkers.
The researchers suggest that the fact that drinking alcohol, especially in a social setting, helps you relax might explain why moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease.
It’s not just the quantities that affect your health – what you drink is also important.
There is evidence that red wine may be better for you than other types of alcohol, including a recent study by the UK Biobank (a huge database of UK participants). This found that red wine drinkers had fewer heart attacks and strokes than people who preferred beer, cider, or liquor, even when they drank roughly the same number of units per week.
It could be that red wine drinkers are simply wealthier, or that red wine contains something protective.
In one of the few randomized, controlled studies on drinking that I found, researchers at Ben Gurion University in the Negev in Israel took 224 volunteers (all had type 2 diabetes) and randomly assigned them to drink a medium Glass (150 ml) of red wine, white wine or mineral water during dinner every day for two years.
The wine and water were provided free of charge and the empty bottles were then collected. An impressive 87 percent of them stuck to their allotted drink.
It was good news for the wine drinkers compared to the water group – the red wine drinkers prevailed, the white wine drinkers in second place.
Both saw significant improvements in their cholesterol levels and the quality of their sleep also improved.
This was a small study that was done for a relatively short period of time, but it complements research showing that the occasional glass of wine is unlikely to harm you, and may even do you good. Bottom up!
Has using a sleep tracker made my nights worse?
If you own a sleep tracker and obsessively monitor it, you may have orthosomnia – an unhealthy obsession with trying to improve your sleep score. I guess I have it. I recently lost my tracker and my sleep seems to have improved since then.
The term “orthosomnia” was coined by researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who published an article about it in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2017.
One case study they described was a 69-year-old who noticed his tracker was showing that he was getting a bad night’s sleep. In a sleep laboratory, he was found to have obstructive sleep apnea, which caused him to stop breathing for a short time at night.
So far, so good. But despite the fact that this was treated and his sleep improved, the patient spent longer and longer in bed. He was constantly checking his tracker and trying to get a perfect sleep. Which of course was self-destructive.
However, I am still tempted to buy another sleep tracker. Only from curiosity…
Why fall babies are more popular
Did you know that Virgos are more athletic than Geminis? This has nothing to do with astrology and everything to do with the relative age effect, also known as the date of birth effect.
In the English school system, children born in September are almost a year older and more mature than those born in late August. And that means they are more likely to be chosen for school teams in the early years as they get stronger. They will then receive additional training which amplifies their benefits. They are also more likely to be selected as the team captain.
The relative age effect explains why children born in winter are more likely to play professional football than children born in summer. Sir Bobby Charlton (born October 1937), Glenn Hoddle (October 1957) and Gary Lineker (November 1960) are just a few of the leading English footballers who have benefited from this.
A 2009 Open University study of soccer players at English youth academies found that 57 percent were born between September and December, while only 14 percent had birthdays between May and August.
Being born in the right month can also make you more popular – according to a recent study by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, which involved more than 13,000 children between the ages of 14 and 15.
They were asked to identify the top five most popular people in their class who matched their birth dates.
The further your birthday was from the start of the school year, the less popular you were likely to be, no doubt because older children have more confidence or status.
My school years were some of the worst of my life. Although I was born in March, I was promoted a year up for academic reasons so I was at least a year younger than most of my classmates.
But at least I can now attribute part of my lack of athletic success (and popularity) to the relative age effect.
The consolation of science.