Why quitting alcohol improves mental health, quality of life
“More evidence suggests caution in recommending moderate drinking as part of a healthy diet,” says Dr. Michael Ni, School of Public Health and The State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, University of Hong Kong (HKU).
The study carried out by Dr. Xiaoxin Yao, Dr. Michael Ni, Dr. Herbert Pang and colleagues at HKU included 10 386 people from the FAMILY Cohort in Hong Kong who were nondrinkers or moderate drinkers (14 drinks or less per week for men and 7 drinks or less per week for women) between 2009 and 2013.
The researchers compared their findings with data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a representative survey of 31 079 people conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the United States.
The mean age of participants in the FAMILY Cohort was 49 years and 56 per cent were women. About 64 per cent of men were nondrinkers (abstainers and former drinkers) and almost 88 per cent of women were nondrinkers. Men and women who were lifetime abstainers had the highest level of mental well-being at the start of the study (baseline).
For women who were moderate drinkers and quit drinking, quitting was linked to a favourable change in mental well-being in both Chinese and American study populations. These results were apparent after adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, body mass index, smoking status, and other factors.
“Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed,” says Dr. Ni. “Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life. Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental well-being, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
“Change in moderate alcohol consumption and quality of life: evidence from two population-based cohorts” is published July 8, 2019.
Meanwhile, most people know that regular exercise is good for your health. New research shows it may make you smarter, too.
Neuroscientists at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, working with mice, have discovered that a short burst of exercise directly boosts the function of a gene that increases connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.
The research is published online in the journal eLife.
“Exercise is cheap, and you don’t necessarily need a fancy gym membership or have to run 10 miles a day,” said co-senior author Gary Westbrook, M.D., senior scientist at the OHSU Vollum Institute and Dixon Professor of Neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Previous research in animals and in people shows that regular exercise promotes general brain health. However, it’s hard to untangle the overall benefits of exercise to the heart, liver and muscles from the specific effect on the brain. For example, a healthy heart oxygenates the whole body, including the brain.
“Previous studies of exercise almost all focus on sustained exercise,” Westbrook said. “As neuroscientists, it’s not that we don’t care about the benefits on the heart and muscles but we wanted to know the brain-specific benefit of exercise.”
So the scientists designed a study in mice that specifically measured the brain’s response to single bouts of exercise in otherwise sedentary mice that were placed for short periods on running wheels. The mice ran a few kilometers in two hours.
The study found that short-term bursts of exercise — the human equivalent of a weekly game of pickup basketball, or 4,000 steps — promoted an increase in synapses in the hippocampus. Scientists made the key discovery by analyzing genes that were increased in single neurons activated during exercise.
One particular gene stood out: Mtss1L. This gene had been largely ignored in prior studies in the brain.
“That was the most exciting thing,” said co-lead author Christina Chatzi, Ph.D.
The Mtss1L gene encodes a protein that causes bending of the cell membrane. Researchers discovered that when this gene is activated by short bursts of exercise, it promotes small growths on neurons known as dendritic spines — the site at which synapses form.
In effect, the study showed that an acute burst of exercise is enough to prime the brain for learning.
In the next stage of research, scientists plan to pair acute bouts of exercise with learning tasks to better understand the impact on learning and memory.
Meanwhile, in a study of 375 adults who have successfully maintained weight loss and who engage in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity, most reported consistency in the time of day that they exercised, with early morning being the most common time.
The Obesity study also found that being consistent in the timing of physical activity was associated with higher physical activity levels, regardless of whether people exercised consistently during the morning, afternoon, or evening.
“Our findings warrant future experimental research to determine whether promoting consistency in the time of day that planned and structured physical activity is performed can help individuals achieve and sustain higher levels of physical activity,” said senior author Dale Bond, PhD of the Brown Alpert Medical School. “It will also be important to determine whether there is a specific time of day that is more advantageous for individuals who have initial low physical activity levels to develop a physical activity habit,” added first author Leah Schumacher, PhD.
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