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



Don’t eat yourself to death

This is not just a to-do list, but also a do-not-do list.

Almost half of heart-related deaths are caused by bad eating habits.

Researchers in the US looked at over 700,000 deaths from heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes in 2012.

Diets high in salt or sugary drinks, a lack of fruit and vegetables, and high levels of processed meats were to blame for almost half of the deaths.

So don’t:

  • eat high amounts of salt (optimal – 2g a day)
  • drink high amounts of sugary drinks (optimal – none)
  • eat high amounts of unprocessed red meats (optimal – one 100g serving a week)
  • eat high amounts of processed meats (optimal – none)

The researchers found that 45% of the people who died from the conditions mentioned above were linked to suboptimal consumption of 10 types of nutrients and ate low amounts of fruit, seafood omega-3 fats, nuts & seeds, vegetables, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats. 

So do eat those.

Almost 10% of deaths were linked to eating too much salt and almost as many linked to not eating nuts and seeds. This was followed by not eating fatty fish (omega-3 oil), then not eating vegetables and fruit. Sugary drink consumption came next followed by low consumption of grains.

So it’s not just about cutting out the rubbish food but also eating the healthy stuff.

Interestingly men’s diets are more linked to poor health than womens’.

The researchers  – from Cambridge University and two universities in America – hope that their findings will inform public health guidelines and influence strategies to change dietary habits and improve health.

Extreme sport can damage your health

stick_figure_running_icon_1600_wht_3621Nowadays everyone seems to own neon lycra sportswear with a full set of trainers for very occasion.

No longer content with going to the gym it’s for many it’s a bootcamp, a marathon, or a testing event such as Ironman triathlon or Tough Mudder.

But the consequence of taking part in ultra-endurance events can be disastrous with participants developing heart problems such as high blood pressure, irregular or fast heartbeat, and fatigue.

One such athlete Steve Birkinshaw broke the endurance record for running up and down all 214 Lake District peaks two years ago. At the time his resting pulse was 36 bpm. He now suffers all the symptoms mentioned above and says twenty other mountain marathon runners have told him that they have the same problems.

Scientists are now going to monitor 100 ultra-marathon runners for damage to their hearts. The study is being run by the University of California and John Moores University and will test existing evidence that the runners had “an increased risk for certain types of cardiac arrhythmia”.

Martin Hoffman, the professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California leading the study, and who at the age of 60 is taking part in a 200-mile running race after this year, warned couch potatoes not to use the health problems of these ultra-endurance athletes an excuse not to exercise. “Across most of the developed world the problem is not over-training but inactivity”.

And while extreme exercise has its limits, being a couch potato also leads to poor health.

If you really have to make new year resolutions..

here are some sensible ones from Dr Mark Porter who writes for the Times (with my own comments added):looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647

  1. Get a tape measure and measure your waist. This should be less than half your height to maintain good health. Body Mass Index (bmi) is so out-of-date as I’ve written before.
  2. Buy a blood pressure monitor as one in three of us develops high blood pressure which often requires lifelong treatment. Taking your BP at home may be more accurate than if taken in a stressful environment such as a hospital or GP’s surgery (the well-known white coat effect).
  3. Buy a petrol car next time as diesel has been proved to be dirtier fuel and unhealthy in built-up areas
  4. Learn what sepsis looks like. Blood poisoning or septicaemia as it was once called kills thousands of people a year. It typically starts with bacterial infections of the chest, abdomen, or urinary tract. You can get it at any age and it often mimics flu or gastroenteritis. Doing a SEPSIS test means looking for Slurred speech,Extreme shivering or muscle aches, Passing no urine (in a day), Severe breathlessness, “I feel like I might die”, Skin mottled or discoloured and any rash that doesn’t blanch under pressure from glass tumbler.
  5. Check your heart age. Go to nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/pages/check-your-heart-age-tool.aspx or download a free heart risk app fromwww.jbs3risk.com. These might prompt you to change your diet and lifestyle habits.
  6. Eat more nuts. More evidence that a good intake of nuts (no more than a handful a day but not salted peanuts) is associated with a longer, healthier life. I’ve blogged about nuts before.
  7. Get stronger. Build strength as strong muscles are good for arthritis and thinning bones, reduce the risk of falling and can prevent pain. Exercise is good at any age but don’t overdo it.
  8. Make Saturday at home an internet-free day. Get people off the screens and doing something together. Why not the whole weekend? In France they have banned firms e-mailing staff outside working hours which is a good move as well.
  9. Cook more. Use fresh food rather than relying on processed food. And invest in the future by teaching your kids.
  10. Give up vaping. Although less hazardous than smoking the long-term inhalation of glycols is bound to have some impact on your lungs. Some experts say it helps people give up smoking. Fine but don’t keep on vaping. In any case people who vape in public look like prats.

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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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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.

Stress and poverty definitely not good for you 

Researchers at Ohio State University have been looking at stress and health for 30 years and can show that being chronically stressed wears down your immune system and makes you  more likely to become ill and disease-prone.

They also found that children who had difficult childhoods eg through being abused or neglected, could develop hyperactive stress responses which could kick in later in life making them more vulnerable when subject to stress as adults.

And at the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Centre their research shows that early childhood experiences of stress or poverty influence the chances that we’ll develop chronic diseases as adults – whether or not we have a poor diet, don’t exercise, drink in excess, or smoke.

Cardiovascular disease is a case in point. If the family rented rather than owned a home, if the parents didn’t go to college or had less prestigious jobs, then the children’s own cardiovascular health was more likely to be compromised in adulthood – regardless of how successful they became and how much they had achieved on their own as adults.

Updated 16 November 2010: According to a study by the European Commission people who grow up in poverty have fewer chances to flourish at school, remain healthy, and avoid problems. As adults they face difficulty finding work and low and irregular income means they have meagre pensions putting 17% of elderly men and 22% of elderly women at risk.

A report in the Helsinki Times says that even in Finland, where there is high social mobility, children of families receiving income support are 2-2.5 times at risk of being on income support themselves – according to researchers at the National Institute for Health & Welfare.

They say that parents’ income levels count for about 15/20% of a child’s income levels because with free education in Finland an individual’s efforts carries more significance. Educational opportunities are seen as key to breaking the chain of cross-generational poverty, but even so one in eight Finns are now living below the poverty line according to EU and OECD standards.