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Alcohol: Go easy on the amygdala🗼

Fear is often our friend, but alcohol makes it more difficult to quash unhelpful worries and so prolongs the ill-effects of our misfortunes.

Continue reading “Alcohol: Go easy on the amygdala🗼”

Alcohol Companion Newsletter 53, March 15th 2018

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This issue: The public are okay with health labels; Go with the flow: being brain aware means being alcohol aware; Alcohol-dementia link seriously underestimated; We can avoid alcohol-induced problems. Alcohol Companion is a “must-read”, says supermodel.

Book news



Alcohol Companion: “A must-read for anyone wanting to explore their true relationship with alcohol,” Alison Canavan

“This book opened my eyes in so many ways about how alcohol really affects our body and mind. A must-read for anyone wanting to explore their true relationship with alcohol.”Alison Canavan, wellness advocate and supermodel.

We can avoid alcohol’s mental health icebergs

A brain-centred approach will enable millions of us to avoid the alcohol icebergs we know are out there. 

The latest smudge on the radar screen was made this week by 10,000 extra cases of early-onset dementia lurking in French medical data. Alcohol factored in 57% of them, tripling the risk of all dementias. This mass suffering must be mourned, as is the fact that the risks are not widely known, as I discovered investigating my book Alcohol Companion.

Other investigations are poised to confirm the dementia statistic, which is almost certainly an underestimate. “No surprise,” say many in the psychiatric and mental health professions on reading this week’s dementia statistic. For them alcohol damage is is a commonplace of working knowledge. 

There are more statistical icebergs are out there too, simply waiting to be given wider recognition. There is already an undisputed correlation between drinking more than a little alcohol and depression and anxiety. So too post-traumatic stress, problems with decision-making abilities, cognition, memory and impulse control.

Some of us may know this on paper or have found out from experience, but how many of us really act on what we know? It is already known that drinking no more than 14 UK units (140ml) of alcohol a week will minimise our chances of problems. If we take our mental health seriously, as surely we should, we need to follow this guidance.

Our brains are not just the fall-guy in our relationship with alcohol either, they also initiate it. We drink alcohol because we like how our brains make us feel after, feelings informed by our beliefs. We often imagine it boosts our confidence, our mood and or helps us relax, all understandable ideas, but also inaccurate enough to backfire.

The brain-centricity of this week’s news make it a turning point, but real change will not happen overnight. As if to illustrate, a story ran alongside it peddling the “good news” that alcohol may prolong our lives. No matter, it seems, these reports were slammed by experts in alcohol and longevity as misleading speculation.

But these lapses of collective reason do not spoil the real good news about the path of our relationship with alcohol. The ice has been broken about mental health which has gone from taboo to borderline trendy, with young people drinking less. The internet, for all its problems, has put us in touch with our psychological quirks, both good and bad. And we can inform, organise and support each other better than ever.

There are still formidable alcohol icebergs out there which will come to wider recognition in due course. We can be sure of that. But we also have the knowledge and tools to minimise risk. It can only get better, even if it is sometimes a bumpy ride.

Alcohol-dementia link far bigger than thought

Alcohol drinking is linked to 57% of cases of early-onset dementia, according to a new study, far more than most experts had guessed.

“Our findings suggest that the burden of dementia attributable to alcohol use disorders is much larger than previously thought,” says lead author Dr Michaël Schwarzinger of the Translational Health Economics Network.

“While it is widely recognised that heavy drinking can have detrimental physical effects, we have not tended to think about these in terms of brain functioning. This research suggests we should focus more of our attention in that direction,” says James Nicholls of Alcohol Research UK.

Alcohol use disorders were associated with three-times the risk of all types of dementia, making it the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia onset. The paper suggests reducing dementia cases by having screening, interventions and treatment for heavy drinking.

The alcohol-dementia link may be stronger even than this study implies because alcohol problems are underdiagnosed. The French study made the link by looking at diagnoses of mental and behavioural disorders attributed to alcohol use or and alcohol-related liver disease.

The finding is “immensely important” according to Professor Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter. “We should move forward with clear public health messages about the relationship between both alcohol use disorders and alcohol consumption, respectively, and dementia.”

“The link between dementia and alcohol use disorders needs further research, but is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage,” says Dr Schwarzinger. He also recommends cutting availability, increasing tax and banning advertising.

Of the 57,000 early onset dementia cases examined, 18% came alongside a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder, in addition to the 39% of cases which were already recognised as being alcohol-related. Early onset dementia is dementia diagnosed before we are 65.

The association between heavy drinking and dementia onset has been poorly measured. This is a reason why it was not included in the modifiable risk factors included in the Lancet commission on dementia prevention last year, says Dr Schwarzinger.

Drinking consistently less than 14 UK units (140ml) of alcohol a week is reckoned to mean dementia risk is low. Alcohol is not a medicine or health tonic.


We can avoid the alcohol mental health icebergs


Alcohol Companion Newsletter 52, February 17th 2018

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Special: Alcohol industry legal threats have now definitely scuppered a Canadian cancer warning label trial
News: Overwhelming support for better labelling in NE England; Alcohol linked to a third of UK child death and neglect cases; Pre-birth alcohol exposure may affect a fifth of US children; Heineken cashes-in on demand for lower strength beer.
Studies: Alzheimer’s drug repairs damage from teenage binging; Partners’ alcohol risks significantly linked; Cues create glutamate shift in people with alcohol abuse disorder
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Legal threats scupper Canadian alcohol cancer warning trial

Yukon’s abandoned labels

Legal threats have scuppered hopes for the resumption of a Canadian trial of labels warning that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer, putting a question mark over plans to inform consumers elsewhere.

Ireland and Australia are both considering labels warning that alcohol increases the risk of cancer, with Ireland’s lower house debating the move this week.

The UK’s Royal Society for Public Health proposed labels last month which include a warning that alcohol is proven to increase the risk of cancer (left). Alcohol producers quietly lowered their voluntary labelling standard last year.

The Canadian study was abruptly halted at the end of December after receiving a range of legal threats, including that it might be guilty of defamation and trademark infringement. Experts say those seeking to obstruct cancer labelling have a wide range of legal options.

The legal threats have not stopped the evaluation of labels not mentioning the increased cancer risk of drinking alcohol: one showing a standard drink size and another the low-risk drinking guidelines. Results are expected in June.

The trial is part of the second phase of the Northern Territories Alcohol Study led by researchers from Public Health Ontario and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.

Yukon’s 34,000 people have the highest alcohol sales per head in Canada. ■

Track your drinking days and days off…

“The Days Off app is a simple and easy way to track the days you drink alcohol and the days you don’t. Feel healthier, lose weight and save money–simply nominate days to take off drinking and get practical, daily support to help you stick to it.” Download for Android or iPhone.

Alcohol Companion Newsletter 51, February 9th 2018

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Specials: Alcohol is not a proven “brain cleaner”, as widely reported
Notable: Alcohol-free craft beer is the next Big Thing; A drug reverses rodent alcohol-induced deficits; The Mayor of Shropshire helps fund alcohol treatment …
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Rolling news


[review] Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee, by John Bew

Clement Attlee was a man whose life was shaped by world events dwarfing those of our own time, World Wars 1 and 2 and their aftermath, the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression. And, in his own quiet, methodical way, he also helped shaped them. Shy, privately-schooled, cricket-loving, he put himself into the public eye to fulfil a Victorian sense of patriotism and selfless public duty which seem foreign today. His mission all began by living and working in London’s hard up East End. He was a spitting image for Lenin, though he rejecting bolshevism in favour of the separate stream of British socialism. He was, with his homegrown creed, able to work effectively alongside the aristocratic and bombastic Winston Churchill in the national government of World War 2, only to trounce him with a radical plan to create the welfare state once it was over. And yet the two remained on good terms. His natural reticence and his role in unifying a fractious Labour party perhaps mean he is, as a man and as a politician, destined to remain frustratingly elusive. But this portrait of a life lived on the front line in tumultuous times, from being shot in the bum in the Mesopotamia campaign to facing the threat of the nuclear age, while providing universal healthcare and homes for heroes and starting the dismantling of the British Empire, is no less breathtaking for it. ■