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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Loneliness bad for your health

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P1000496Loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease by a third and should be treated as seriously as smoking and obesity.

That’s according to researchers at the University of York. And the risk might be even higher if  loneliness leads to inactivity and a poor diet.

A million older people in Britain say they are chronically lonely. A figure that is expected to rise by 600,000 in the next twenty years.

Other studies have shown that lonely people are 50% more likely to die early, a similar risk to drinking and smoking.

Dr Victoria Valtorta, who led the research, said “What it doesn’t tell you is whether people are at greater risk of developing disease or if people who are ill are less likely to recover if they’re lonely”

She analysed 23 studies involving 180,000 people and concluded that lonely people were also more likely to get heart disease…

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What makes you happy – part 2

Despite what England fans might feel right now football competitions can make you happy as I said in an earlier post – but only in the short-term – and only if you are the host country.

But even that doesn’t make you as happy as a good marriage. Married people are happier than single people (it could be that happy people get married more easily). And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married makes up for  all the negative affects of unemployment.

Just don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).

How do you know if people are really happy? Women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are. Probably because we expect women to be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour that doesn’t fit our expectations.

Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity whereas stress lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. So middle-aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Older people also focus more on the positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “What makes you Happy).

We are attracted to happy people because we think theye will give good genes to our children. Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts.

Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year olds) or watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.

But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to teetotallers).

We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a “set point” or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So like the football example, winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.

According to ideas from positive psychology we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more involved in things, and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want“, suggests the following  to raise your levels of happiness:

  • Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
  • Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
  • Savour life’s joys
  • Thank a mentor
  • Learn to forgive
  • Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
  • Take care of your body and health
  • Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.


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.