Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

So wine is good for you after all!

Catching up on the latest on drinking and health I found that the Times had recently set out several good reasons why you should drink wine, especially red wine.

It can help boost your memory – according to researchers at the University of Exeter. Given up to 4 units of alcohol volunteers remembered lists of words better than those who had none. Wine grapes contain anti-oxidants called polyphenols with one of them, resveratrol, particularly associated with health benefits including keeping muscles supple.

Red wine contains more of the anti-oxidant resveratrol which has been linked with longer life span in animals and anti-cancer effects on cells in laboratories.

Another study found that a phenolic compound found in champagne helped improve spatial memory. So best to drink champagne if you have to find your way back home afterwards!

Wine can also protect against diabetes, which has got to be a good thing given the increasing number of people with it in the UK. So 14 units a week for men and nine for women reduces the chance of Type 2 diabetes by 43% for men and 58% for women!

Several studies have looked at the effect of drinking wine on the immune system and a University of California study in 2013 found that a glass of wine a day helped stave off infections such as colds. The effect was found to be especially strong, in an earlier study, among people who drank more than 14 units a week. They had 40% less chance of catching a cold than teetotallers. Again red wine better than white because it has more of the anti-oxidants.

Studies in Denmark of over 20,000 post-menopausal women found that drinking wine can have a protective effect on the heart. Other studies suggest that moderate drinkers have lower rates of heart disease compared to teetotallers, hence the view that wine is good for your heart.

This may be due to a flavonoid called procyanadin which is linked to lower blood pressure.The best wines for this are those where the skin and seeds have remained in contact with the grapes during fermentation such as those from the Nuoro province of Sardinia and Madiran in the Pyrenees.

Researchers in Canada also believe, after studying over 9,000 adults aged 23 to 55, that moderate drinkers i.e. those who drink up to two glasses a day, had a lower risk of heart disease than non-drinkers. This effect wore off as people got older however. The scientists think that the reason teetotallers are more at risk is not that they don’t drink – but they are probably ill or can’t drink because of their medication.

Studies at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who drank 3 glasses of wine a day were half as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, a disease where the immune system attacks the joints rather than infections as it is supposed to do. Drinking wine might interfere with that process.

Italian scientists in Milan think that the compounds tyrosol and caffein acid, found in white wine, act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Two glasses a day maximum could reduce the inflammatory reaction

Red wine has also been linked with breast cancer. Studies in California found that red wine reduces the oestrogen levels and elevates testosterone levels in pre-menopausal women. White wine didn’t have the same effect.

However there is also research from the World Cancer Fund which suggest that women drinking only half a glass of wine a day increases a woman’s risk of cancer after menopause by 9%.

And women who want to get pregnant should be aware of the Danish research that shows that drinking one glass of wine a day lowered the chance of conceiving by 18%

So good news overall with some caveats. Red wine seems better than white except for people with rheumatoid arthritis and probably no wine at all if you are trying to get pregnant.

Other posts on drinking wine here and here



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Walnuts good for women


P1030686Ladies, if you want to be more active, independent, and vigorous in your old age – eat a handful of walnuts each day.

A study over 30 years of more than 50,000 nurses (from the Nurses Health Study) found that those who ate about a dozen walnut halves a couple of time a week reduces their risk of becoming frail or needing care when elderly.

Scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, say the walnut has more protective anti-oxidants than peanuts or brazil nuts and one of a few superfoods associated with a better quality of life.

The head of the research, Francine Grodstein, said “there is a lot of research that looks at specific health conditions in ageing … but less attention to research on quality of life and ability to maintain independence with ageing

She said the simple message from this study is…

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Pigeons can spot cancer as well as the experts

P1010642Studies show that pigeons are smarter than we think.

For example researchers at the University of Iowa have found that pigeons are just as good at spotting cancer cells in medical imaging as human pathologists.

Four pigeons looking at selected images of healthy and cancerous breast tissue were able to be trained over a few days – by being rewarded with food when they pressed a button – to spot the differences and then apply that skill to new images. They correctly identified the cancerous slides with 85% accuracy, the same as humans. They were also as good as humans at recognising cancer-related calcifications in mammograms.

The researchers suggested that pigeons have an affinity for histopathology.

Pigeons have also been used to identify misshapen drug capsules and Monet paintings. Is there no end to their skill set?

I’ve posted about pigeons on and off over the years. Just wish they’d learn to clean up after themselves.

A more serious North-South Divide

money_war_pound_pc_1600_wht_4731I’ve posted before on the North-South Divide but this is more serious.

First the economy. Professor of human geography Danny Dorling, at the University of Sheffield, says the government has paid far too much attention to the eurozone crisis and the banking sector in London. In the meantime the difference in economic growth between the North and South has become a chasm and the split is growing at its fastest rate since WWII.

While there has been economic recovery in the South there is little evidence of that in the North. Since the recession in 2008 the London economy has grown 12% compared to less than 3% in the East Midlands and less than 4% in Yorkshire. In Greater London 7% of shops are empty compared to twice that proportion in Yorkshire. Public sector job cuts have been more severe in the North of England. Many years ago public sector jobs were moved to  the Northern regions as part of an economic strategy to boost employment.

And when it comes to qualifications 30% of adults in London have degrees compared to half that in Liverpool and Newcastle-on-Tyne. At the other end of the age range pensioners also fare less well withmedian household wealth in the North-East of £226,000 compared to £317,000 nationally and £433,000 in the South-East.

You would expect the labour party to be making a fuss about this but Ed Miliband has ordered his party keep quiet so as not to alienate voters in the South which would undermine his “one nation” message. So political PR trumps economical reality!

stick_figure_deceased_1600_wht_7906Secondly health. People living in Manchester, Blackpool and other parts of the North-West are at much greater risk of dying than people in the South-East. The Longer Lives website from Public Health England shows that highest risk of premature death is linked with deprived areas.

Comparing 150 councils Manchester has the highest mortality rate and Bracknell, in Berkshire, the lowest. Manchester also has the highest early death rate with the highest rates for cancer, heart disease and stroke. Wokingham has less than half that rate.

There are estimated to be over 100,00 avoidable early deaths in England each year with the four leading killers: cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung & liver disease, accounting for 75% of them.

70% of early deaths are linked to deprivation and 57% to smoking.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said this “shocking variation” can’t continue unchecked. “I want areas to use the data to identify local public health challenges like smoking, drinking and obesity, and to take action to help achieve our ambition for saving 300,000 lives a year by 2020”

If  you go on to the Longer Livers website you can type in your postcode and see how your area compares nationally. You can also get advice on diet, smoking and drinking.

Public Health has now been transferred from the NHS to local government and the data from the website allows councils to compare themselves with each other and learn from their health promotion schemes although the Local Government Association is worried about creating a league table.

And finally on the question of ill-health it turns out that southerners are wimps when it comes to taking time off work! 80% of employees in the North-West turned up for work every day in the last three month compared to only 65% in London.

Adeco, the recruitment agency which carried out the survey, excused Londoners by saying that people in the North didn’t live on top of each other as they did in London where people came into contact with more people and more disease on the Tube.

Overall 30% of workers were off sick for 1 day in the three months surveyed. There were marked differences by age group with 60% of 16-24 year olds taking at least one sick day but fewer than 20% of over-55s. This is probably explained by life-style differences. Other research shows that young, single males take more time off work than older married workers.