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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Why We Get Hangovers?

Pounding headache, dry mouth, queasy stomach: You feel like you’re dying. But if you had a few too many drinks last night, you probably just have a hangover.

Beyond the fatigue and massive headache, physical symptoms of a hangover include increased sensitivity to light and sound, muscle aches, eye redness, and thirst, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. You may also find yourself feeling sweaty, dizzy, and extra- irritable.

Such side effects usually set in several hours after you’ve stopped drinking, as your blood alcohol level (BAC) falls, and they peak when your BAC reaches zero. Some researchers explain the correlation as a “kind of mini withdrawal,” Robert Swift, PhD, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and director of research at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center, told Newsweek. Hangover symptoms, which can last the entire following day, are similar to those that alcoholics experience when they stop drinking.

Blame Your Hangover On the Congeners

Congeners are chemical byproducts of the alcohol fermentation process, found more prominently in darker liquor such as red wine, bourbon, brandy, whiskey, and dark-colored beers. Think of them as your worst hangover nightmare. While they enhance the taste and smell of the alcohol, researchers believe congeners, essentially toxins to the body, also lead to hangovers. A 2009 study found that people who drank bourbon (which contains 37 times more congeners than vodka) experienced a more severe hangover than those who drank similar amounts of vodka.

But that doesn’t mean you should go around slugging vodka sodas all night. You can still get a hangover from drinking clear alcoholic beverages (vokda, gin, white wine, light-colored beers) if you drink too much of it.

The Science Behind the Symptoms

Biologically, hangover woes mostly come down to dehydration. “Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it helps the body get rid of fluids. When you have a severe hangover, you’re often severely dehydrated, and the body can’t get rid of the byproducts of metabolizing alcohol (metabolites). And those metabolites are irritating,” Brandon Browne, MD, a staff physician in the department of emergency medicine at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Tex., told HealthDay. It’s the dehydration that causes the fatigue, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting.

Aside from the severe lack of water in your body, Yul Ejnes, MD, chair of the American College of Physicians Board of Regents, notes that drinking heavily irritates the stomach lining, relaxes the muscles of the lower esophagus (causing reflux), and has a depressing effect on brain cells (hence the lack of coordination, decreased response time, and dizziness). It also lowers your blood sugar, and being hypoglycemic can also leave you feeling weak.

Why Do Some People ‘Never’ Get Hangovers?

Everyone has at least one friend who claims to never get hangovers. While it might be genetic, it’s more likely those people simply drink smartly. Individuals respond differently to alcohol, based on factors like body size, how fast you drink, and the amount of food and water you consume during a night out. Metabolism has something to do with it, too, Dr. Ejnes points out. The speed at which alcohol and its byproducts are metabolized can affect your level of drunkenness and the severity of your hangover.

On the other hand, some people may be genetically prone to get hangovers. “Some people break down a product of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde slowly, resulting in flushing and nausea from drinking alcohol,” says Ejnes. Research shows that this genetic trait occurs in almost half of people of Asian descent.

So, How Do You Prevent a Hangover?

The only surefire way not to get a hangover is to watch how much you drink (sorry). But chugging a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage is a great way to combat the dehydration. And it makes things a lot more bearable if you don’t have to wake up early the next morning. Getting enough sleep after a night of drinking can also help mitigate symptoms such as fatigue and headache, given the disruption of sleep caused by the alcohol, Ejnes says. You should also try to eat a meal before you hit the bar, so your body doesn’t absorb the alcohol as quickly as it would on an empty stomach. In the morning, drink lots water and eat something high carb and high sugar, such as toast with honey, to boost your blood sugar. Don’t overdo it on caffeine, but if you’re a java-addict, remember to have your morning cup of joe to avoid going through coffee withdrawal on top of your hangover.

A number of so-called hangover cures and preemptive products, from patches to effervescent tablets, have also hit the market. They claim to ease and prevent the dreaded morning after, but the health benefits aren’t proven.

Why Asparagus Make Pee Smell Funny?

For all of its health benefits (it has plenty of fiber and protein, and it acts as a diuretic to help beat bloating),asparagus can have one major downfall: It can make your pee smell funky.

So what’s to blame for the cooked-cabbage aroma? “Your body breaks down asparagus during digestion into sulfur-containing chemicals that give your urine a distinctive odor,” explains Roshini Raj, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of What the Yuck?!.

Not everyone is affected, though: Dr. Raj says that only about half of people complain about, er, report the funny smell.

Scientists have developed two theories to explain why asparagus-tainted urine only affects some people. One posits that only some people metabolize asparagus’ sulfuric compounds in a way that produces the aroma. The other holds that while everyone makes the smell, only some people can actually detect the odor.

In a study published in the journal Chemical Sense, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia sought to determine which explanation was the more likely. They collected urine samples from 38 participants before and after they ate asparagus, then asked whether the participants could detect the smell.

They found that both theories held true: 8 percent of the participants did not produce funny-smelling pee, and 6 percent of the participants could not smell it (even though some produced it).

While you may think not smelling the asparagus pee is a good thing, the researchers suggest that failing to pick up on the scent might be potentially dangerous, because it may indicate an inability to detect other important odors. “This is one of only a few examples to date showing genetic differences among humans in their sense of smell,” study co-author Danielle Reed, PhD, a Monell behavioral geneticist, said in a press release. “Specifically, we have learned that changes in an olfactory receptor gene can have a large effect on a person’s ability to smell certain sulfurous compounds. Other such compounds include mercaptan, the chemical used to add odor to natural gas so that people are able to detect it.”

So is there any way to minimize the offensive aroma? In a word, no, that is unless you avoid eating the stalky vegetable altogether. Given the abundance of fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C and K in asparagus, it may be worth putting up with a few unpleasant whiffs to reap all of its healthy advantages.

Scientists identify mechanisms

A study led by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers has uncovered key molecular pathways behind the disruption of the gut’s delicate balance of bacteria during episodes of inflammatory disease.

“A deeper understanding of these pathways may help in developing new prevention and treatment strategies for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and certain gastrointestinal infections and colorectal cancers,” said Dr. Sebastian Winter, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research at UT Southwestern, who led the study.

More than 1 million people in the U.S. suffer from IBD, a chronic, lifelong inflammatory disorder of the intestines that has no cure or means of prevention.

The findings, published online today in Cell Host & Microbe, explain a critical mechanism behind the changes in the gut during intestinal inflammation, an issue that had previously been unclear to scientists.

“We found that gut inflammation correlates with a change in the nutrients available to the bacteria,” said Elizabeth Hughes, a graduate student in the Winter Lab and co-first author of the study.

A healthy human gut is teeming with microbes, with bacterial cells outnumbering other cells in the body by 10-to-1. For most of a person’s life, these microbial communities, or microbiota, facilitate digestion, protect against infections, and orchestrate the development of a healthy immune system.

During episodes of intestinal inflammation — which can occur during IBD and gastrointestinal infections and cancers — the composition of these gut microbial communities is radically disturbed.

“Beneficial bacteria begin to dwindle in numbers as less beneficial, or even harmful, bacteria flourish,” said Ms. Hughes. “This imbalance of microbiota is believed to exacerbate the inflammation.”

A healthy gut is devoid of oxygen. The beneficial bacteria that live there are well-adapted to the low-oxygen environment and break down fiber through fermentation. Unlike these beneficial bacteria, potentially harmful E. coli grow better in high-oxygen environments.

“Inflammation changes the environment so that it is no longer perfect for the commensal anaerobes, but perfect for opportunistic E. coli, which basically wait for an ‘accident’ like inflammation to happen,” Dr. Winter explained.

The increased availability of oxygen during inflammation helps E. coli thrive in an inflamed gut through a metabolic “trick,” Ms. Hughes said.

“Through respiration, the abundant waste products generated by the beneficial microbes can be ‘recycled’ by commensal E. coli — which do not grow well on fiber — and turned into valuable nutrients, thus fueling a potentially harmful bloom of the E. colipopulation,” she explained.

Learning more about the forces behind disease-related shifts in the gut’s bacterial composition provides insights into treatment targets and diagnostic resources. This understanding could lead to more effective treatments for IBD and inflammation-associated colorectal cancers. New drugs might, for example, inhibit this particular metabolic function of E. coli.

“If we interfere with the production of waste products by the beneficial commensal bacteria, then we impede their metabolism, which causes them to grow more slowly and throw off the entire ecosystem,” Dr. Winter said. “The most effective strategy may be to inhibit commensal E. coli‘s unique metabolism to avoid the bloom and negative impacts.”

Dr. Winter and his research team continue to study these mechanisms.

Sitting Too Long Raises Death Risk

According to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, sitting for long periods increases your risk of all-cause early death. (Now would definitely be the time to stand up.)

In the study, researchers followed 222,497 Australian adults for several years. Over the course of the study, participants who sat for more than 11 hours a day had the highest risk for all-cause mortality, followed by those who sat between 8 and 11 hours daily. Those who sat for less than four hours a day had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.

The revelation that sitting can kill isn’t necessarily new. In the past several years, study after study has confirmed that living a sedentary life — going from your bed to your desk to the couch and back to bed every day — can damage our health in a variety of ways. In fact, it has been shown to increase risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and some cancers.

Another recent study actually found that sitting is so detrimental, its effects are almost impossible to exercise away. The study followed 27 Finnish men and women over two days. On the first day, they exercised; on the second day, they did not. When researchers measured the muscle activity and heart rate of the participants, they found that though they burned calories through exercise, it did not increase their overall muscle activity. Researchers also found that desk workers’ muscles are inactive for about 70 percent of the day — regardless of whether the day includes any fitness training.

The takeaway: Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting however possible. Try these tips to up your daily activity:

  • Walk more. One of the simplest ways to offset the effects of sitting is to walk. If you can, walk or bike to work instead of driving. If you take public transportation, get off a few stops earlier to squeeze in more steps — experts recommend buying a pedometer and aiming for 10,000 daily steps.
  • Stand up at work. Experts estimate that standing burns 50 percent more calories than sitting, so whenever possible, think on your feet on the job. Stand during meetings, while you’re on the phone, and depending on the type of work you do, consider adding a standing desk to your office.
  • Fidget while you work. According to researchers at the Minnesota Obesity Center, fidgeting might be what separates thin people from overweight people. To increase your daily activity, make a point to get up and walk around your office every half an hour, if possible.
  • Make TV time active. Instead of vegging out on the couch when you get home, add activity to your evenings by doing jumping jacks, pushups, crunches, and other fat-blasting moves during commercial breaks of your favorite shows.