Addiction researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a risk for alcoholism also may put individuals at risk for obesity. The researchers noted that the association between a family history of alcoholism and obesity risk has become more pronounced in recent years. Both men and women with such a family history were more likely to be obese in 2002 than members of that same high-risk group had been in 1992. “In addiction research, we often look at what we call cross-heritability, which addresses the question of whether the predisposition to one condition also might contribute to other conditions,” says first author Richard A. Grucza, PhD. “For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are cross-heritable. This new study demonstrates a cross-heritability between alcoholism and obesity, but it also says — and this is very important — that some of the risks must be a function of the environment. The environment is what changed between the 1990s and the 2000s. It wasn’t people’s genes.”
Obesity in the United States has doubled in recent decades from 15 percent of the population in the late 1970s to 33 percent in 2004. Obese people – those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more – have an elevated risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Reporting in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Grucza and his team say individuals with a family history of alcoholism, particularly women, have an elevated obesity risk. In addition, that risk seems to be growing. He speculates that may result from changes in the food we eat and the availability of more foods that interact with the same brain areas as addictive drugs. “Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories than the food we ate in the 1970s and 1980s, but it also contains the sorts of calories — particularly a combination of sugar, salt and fat — that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain,” says Grucza, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “Alcohol and drugs affect those same parts of the brain, and our thinking was that because the same brain structures are being stimulated, overconsumption of those foods might be greater in people with a predisposition to addiction.”
Grucza hypothesized that as Americans consumed more high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods, those with a genetic risk for addiction would face an elevated risk from because of the effects of those foods on the reward centers in the brain. His team analyzed data from two large alcoholism surveys from the last two decades. The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey was conducted in 1991 and 1992. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was conducted in 2001 and 2002. Almost 80,000 people took part in the two surveys.
“We looked particularly at family history of alcoholism as a marker of risk,” Grucza explains. “And we found that in 2001 and 2002, women with that history were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without a family history of alcoholism. We also noticed a relationship in men, but it was not as striking in men as in women.” Grucza says a possible explanation for obesity in those with a family history of alcoholism is that some individuals may substitute one addiction for another. After seeing a close relative deal with alcohol problems, a person may shy away from drinking, but high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods also can stimulate the reward centers in their brains and give them effects similar to what they might experience from alcohol.
“Ironically, people with alcoholism tend not to be obese,” Grucza says. “They tend to be malnourished, or at least under-nourished because many replace their food intake with alcohol. One might think that the excess calories associated with alcohol consumption could, in theory, contribute to obesity, but that’s not what we saw in these individuals.” Grucza says other variables, from smoking, to alcohol intake, to demographic factors like age and education levels don’t seem to explain the association between alcoholism risk and obesity. “It really does appear to be a change in the environment,” he says. “I would speculate, although I can’t really prove this, that a change in the food environment brought this association about. There is a whole slew of literature out there suggesting these hyper-palatable foods appeal to people with addictive tendencies, and I would guess that’s what we’re seeing in our study.” The results, he says, suggest there should be more cross-talk between alcohol and addiction researchers and those who study obesity. He says there may be some people for whom treating one of those disorders also might aid the other.
About a third of some of the most common forms of cancer could be prevented through healthy diet, physical fitness, and limiting alcohol intake, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund say in a new report. About 7.6 million people die from cancer every year worldwide, and 12.7 million new cases are diagnosed. According to the Union for International Cancer Control, a third of cancer cases could be cured through early diagnosis and treatment and 30% to 40% could be prevented. About 340,000 cases of cancer could be prevented annually in the U.S. if more people started eating a varied and healthy diet, started a regimen of physical activity, limited alcohol intake, and maintained a healthy weight, the new report says.
“Physical activity is recommended for people of all ages as a means to reduce risks for certain types of cancers and other non-communicable diseases,” says Tim Armstrong, MD, of the World Health Organization, says in a news release. “In order to improve their health and prevent several diseases, adults should do at least 150 minutes moderate physical activity throughout the week. This can be achieved by simply walking 30 minutes five times per week or by cycling to work daily.”
To reduce cancer risk, people also should quit smoking, avoid excessive sun exposure, and protect themselves against cancer-causing infections.
Tim Byers, MD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health, says scientists urge Americans “to make the simple lifestyle changes of eating healthy food, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight to reduce cancer risk.” The World Cancer Declaration outlines 11 targets it says could be achieved by 2020 to fight cancer. These goals include: significant drops in global tobacco use, obesity, and alcohol intake; universal vaccination programs for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus (HPV); universal availability of effective pain medication; and efforts to dispel misconceptions about cancer. The health organizations say in a detailed report that the most common cancers in the U.S. and Britain are of the breast, colon/rectum, lung, and prostate.
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends the following cancer-prevention steps.
- Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods, particularly processed foods high in added sugar, low in fiber, or high in fat.
- Avoid sugary drinks.
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
- Limit consumption of red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb, and avoid processed meats.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with sodium.
- Dietary supplements for lowering cancer risk are not recommended.
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
- Be physically active for 30 minutes or more every day.
According to a new study by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the USDA, conducted a study with 15,000 adults in the United States, and found that people who drink too many alcoholic beverages are more likely to eat less fruit and consume more calories from a combination of alcoholic beverages and foods high in unhealthy fats and sugar.
“Heavy drinking and dietary factors have independently been associated with cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other chronic health problems,” said NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. “This finding raises questions about whether the combination of alcohol misuse and poor diet might interact to further increase health risks.”
“We found that as alcoholic beverage consumption increased, Healthy Eating Index scores decreased, an indication of poorer food choices,” said first author Rosalind A. Breslow, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research.
A previous study by Dr. Breslow showed that the more alcohol people drink, the poorest quality diets they had. In addition to eating less fruits and vegetables, the researchers also found that increased alcoholic beverage consumption was associated with a decreased intake of whole grains and milk among men.
“Our findings underscore the importance of moderation for individuals who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, and a greater awareness of healthy food choices among such individuals,” says Dr. Breslow.
It is very important to control the amount of alcohol you consume. It could greatly affect you health.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from Hopital de la Pitie and the IPC (Investigations Preventives et Cliniques) Center in Paris, France. It was funded by French public health bodies, the Caisse Nationale d'Assurance Maladie (CNAM) and the Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie de Paris (CPAM-Paris). The study was published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This research was generally covered well by the media, with most stories making it clear that alcohol had not been found to improve health, but rather that people who drank moderately also had better health and social status. The messages from some headlines were more misleading, however, with Metro claiming that “Drinking wine makes you happier” and The Sun suggesting that booze “aids the body”.
The Daily Mail featured particularly clear coverage, with both its headline and article clearly explaining that the good health of moderate drinkers is more likely to be down to healthier diet, exercise and work–life balance rather than any supposed benefits of alcohol.
What kind of research was this?
This cross-sectional study analysed the relationship between alcohol intake, other cardiovascular risk factors and health status in a large French population. The aim was to evaluate potential confounding factors that may be behind the supposed cardiovascular benefits of alcohol.The researchers looked at data on the clinical and biological characteristics of nearly 150,000 people, which were gathered as part of a large ongoing cohort study.
Several observational studies have shown an association between moderate alcohol intake and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The lower risk is often attributed to alcohol having beneficial effects on blood levels of lipids, such as cholesterol, or on other factors, such as the effect of the antioxidants in alcoholic drinks. The researchers point out that addressing the underlying message implied by previous data, that moderate alcohol intake is good for health, is particularly important in France, which has one of the highest average individual alcohol intakes in the world.
The researchers also stress that the findings from observational studies need to be viewed with caution, so they assessed a number of key factors not taken into account by previous research. These key, but generally unexplored, factors included mental wellbeing, subjective health status and social factors.
What did the research involve?
All the people in the study underwent a clinical examination between 1999 and 2005, which included measurements blood pressure, waist circumference, cholesterol, respiratory function and heart rate. Also recorded were tobacco use, physical activity, personal medical history, current medications, social status and occupation. Stress and depression scores were assessed using validated questionnaires, and people were also asked to estimate their own health status.
Alcohol intake was quantified as the number of standardised glasses of pure alcohol (10g a glass) consumed each day, and different types of alcoholic drink were also recorded. People were divided into four groups according to their alcohol consumption: never, low (less than 1 glass a day), moderate (1-3 glasses a day) or high (more than 3 glasses a day). Former drinkers were analysed as a separate group. Established statistical techniques were used to analyse the relationship between alcohol intake and all the other factors. The results were adjusted to account for the influence of age and were also broken down by gender.
What were the basic results?
The researchers found that:
13.7% of men and 23.9% of women did not drink at all. Total alcohol intake increased with age in both sexes. Apart from people aged under 30, most people drank wine. They found that women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol had lower body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure and blood lipids, including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Men who drank moderately had lower body mass index, heart rate, blood pressure, some blood lipids (triglycerides) and fasting glucose levels, plus lower stress and depression scores.
Men who drank little or moderately were also more likely to have better self-assessed health status, social status and respiratory function. In both sexes, alcohol intake was strongly associated with higher levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, a finding which was independent of the type of alcoholic beverage consumed.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers concluded that moderate and low consumption of alcohol was strongly associated with several clinical, social and biological characteristics that point to overall better health status and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Importantly, they say, few of these factors seem causally related to alcohol consumption.
They point out that social status was “strikingly different” across the groups, with moderate alcohol consumption being a “powerful general indicator” of social status. Risk factors that have never been taken into account before, such as social and professional status, anxiety score and heart rate, were all more favourable in moderate consumers.
Their results, they say, raise the possibility that the seemingly protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption found in previous research may have been due to the researchers not fully taking account of possible confounders.
This research adds a note of caution to the results of previous studies. It concludes that moderate alcohol consumption may be a marker of better health and lower cardiovascular risk rather than a cause of these improvements.
The study's strength is that it is based on a relatively large cohort and that standardised, validated methods were used to collect clinical and biological information. The main weakness of the study is its cross-sectional design, which means that people were not followed up over time to see if they developed disease. This also meant that deaths from heart disease, for example, were not reported.
Another limitation is that alcohol intake was based on self–reported data. This leaves a possibility for error as accurate recall of alcohol consumption is notoriously hard in this type of study. Future research in this area will ideally follow people over time and carefully measure possible risk factors to establish whether alcohol has any direct, causal role in protection from heart disease.
Overall, this study has implications for public health. As the researchers say, its results suggest that it is premature to promote alcohol consumption as an independent factor for cardiovascular protection, as some have proposed based on past research.
HIV disease tends to progress at a faster rate in infected individuals who consume two or more alcoholic drinks a day, according to a new study in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
The article, entitled “Alcohol Use Accelerates HIV Disease Progression,” clearly demonstrates that frequent alcohol use, defined as two or more drinks daily, is associated with declining CD4+ cell counts (which indicate a weakened immune system) in individuals with HIV disease who either are or are not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Based on the results of a 30-month prospective study, the authors, Marianna Baum, Carlin Rafie, Sabrina Sales, and Adriana Campa, from Florida International University (Miami), Shenghan Lai, from Johns Hopkins University, and John Bryan Page, from University of Miami, Florida, conclude that alcohol has a direct effect on CD4 cells and that the accelerated decline in CD4+ cell counts in frequent alcohol users is not simply due to poorer adherence to ART in this population.
Another article by Natascha Ching, Karin Nielsen-Saines, Jaime Deville, Lian Wei, Eileen Garratty, and Yvonne Bryson, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, demonstrated that children who were infected with HIV while in utero via maternal-fetal transmission, were subsequently given antiretroviral therapy, and had no detectable HIV in their blood, still produced neutralizing antibodies against HIV, suggesting that low levels of viral replication might still be occurring despite drug therapy. In the article, the authors present data to support their conclusion that the children's CD4 T-cells may contain latent HIV reservoirs that formed early in life before antiretroviral therapy was initiated.
“It is important that HIV infected individuals make informed decisions relating to alcohol consumption. This article will help to achieve that goal,” says Thomas Hope, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL.
The number of women suffering from gout has doubled in the last 20 years, research shows.
The problem is traditionally associated with middle aged men but evidence suggests the disease is also a concern for women. According to a survey, the prevalence of gout in women was 3.5 per cent for ages 60 to 69, 4.6 per cent in the 70 to 79 age group, and 5.6 per cent in those aged 80 or older.
Gout is a common and painful inflammatory arthritis caused by elevated uric acid levels in the blood. When too much uric acid builds up in joint fluid, crystals form and cause joint swelling and inflammation. Dr Hyon Choi, from the Boston University School of Medicine, which conducted the review of previous research, said: “We identified 104 gout cases in women and 200 in men. “Our study found that higher levels of uric acid in the blood increase the risk gout risk for women.”
This study, the first to examine the relationship between uric acid levels and gout risk in women, also evaluated purported risk factors for gout and found that increasing age, obesity, hypertension, alcohol use, and diuretic use to be among the leading contributors for women.
The research team analysed data from 2,476 women and 1,951 men, and evaluated uric acid levels and risk factors for gout that included: age, body mass index (BMI), alcohol consumption, hypertension, medication use – including diuretics and hormone replacement therapy – blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and menopause status. The study looked at men and women from various health sources and records over an average of 28 years. The researchers found age, obesity, alcohol consumption, diuretic use, and hypertension were all independently associated with higher risk of gout incidence in women.
The study was published in the April issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.