1. Study proposes more consumer-focused approach to wine

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The traditional pairing of wine and food too often misses the mark — leaving people confused and intimidated — and should be scrapped in favor of a more consumer-focused approach, a new study indicates.

    The research by Michigan State University hospitality scholars suggests people generally fit into certain wine-drinking categories, or “vinotypes,” and that servers and sommeliers should consider these preferences when suggesting a wine.

    Ordering beef roast for dinner? A traditional wine recommendation would be Cabernet Sauvignon. But why would a server suggest a bold red wine if the customer hates it? Let the patron drink his or her beloved Riesling with the meal, said Carl Borchgrevink, a former chef and restaurant manager and lead author on the study.

    “The palate rules — not someone else’s idea of which wine we should drink with our food,” said Borchgrevink, associate professor and interim director of MSU’s School of Hospitality Business. “They shouldn’t try to intimidate you into buying a certain wine. Instead, they should be asking you what you like.”

    Borchgrevink and culinary expert Allan Sherwin conducted the first scientific study examining the premise of Tim Hanni’s vinotype theory. Hanni, in a play on “phenotype,” proposed that vinotypes are determined by both genetics and environment and that such tastes change over time based on experiences.

    Hanni, a chef and one of the first Americans to earn the designation “Master of Wine,” has proposed four primary vinotypes: “sweet,” “hypersensitive,” “sensitive” and “tolerant.” The categories range from those who like sweet, fruity whites (sweet vinotype) to those who enjoy bold, strong reds (tolerant), and everyone in between.

    Hanni also created a series of criteria to determine vinotypes. If you like sweet beverages such as soda and salt your food liberally, for example, you trend toward the sweet vinotype. But if strong black coffee and intense flavors are your thing, you’re more apt to fall in the tolerant camp.

    For the study, MSU researchers surveyed a group of adults on food and beverage preferences and consumption patterns. They also held a reception with 12 stations where the participants rated the food and wine presented at each station individually, and then together.

    The results were conclusive: Hanni’s premise has merit. The researchers were able to predict wine preferences based on consumption patterns and preferences.

    Next, MSU researchers will test the vintoype theory outright by working with scholars globally. Borchgrevink said separate studies are being planned with partners from around the United States, as well as from Hong Kong, France and other areas.

    The work has implications for both restaurants and wine stores, which should train their staff members on the vinotype approach and find questions to ask consumers that can reveal their wine preferences, the study says.

    But the main focus is the wine-drinker, who should learn to trust their own palate and not necessarily depend on the so-called experts, said Sherwin, the Dr. Lewis J. and Mrs. Ruth E. Minor Chef-Professor of Culinary Management at MSU.

    “At the end of the day it’s going to be the consumer that has the final say,” Sherwin said. “They’re going to be the arbiter.”

    The study is published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research.


  2. Higher estrogen levels linked to increased alcohol sensitivity in brain’s ‘reward center’

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    The reward center of the brain is much more attuned to the pleasurable effects of alcohol when estrogen levels are elevated, an effect that may underlie the development of addiction in women, according to a study on mice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Led by Amy Lasek, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, researchers found that neurons in a region of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA (also known as the “reward center”), fired most rapidly in response to alcohol when their estrogen levels were high. This response, according to their findings published online in the journal PLOS ONE, is mediated through receptors on dopamine-emitting neurons in the VTA.

    “When estrogen levels are higher, alcohol is much more rewarding,” said Lasek, who is the corresponding author on the paper and a researcher in the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics. “Women may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol or more likely to overindulge during certain stages of their cycle when estrogen levels are higher, or may be more likely to seek out alcohol during those stages.”

    Studies indicate that gender differences in psychiatric disorders, including addiction, are influenced by estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones. Women are more likely to exhibit greater escalation of abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and are more prone to relapse in response to stress and anxiety.

    The VTA helps evaluate whether something is valuable or good. When neurons in this area of the brain are stimulated, they release dopamine — a powerful neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellness — and, in large doses, euphoria. When something good is encountered — for example, chocolate — the neurons in the VTA fire more rapidly, enforcing reward circuitry that encodes the idea that chocolate is enjoyable and something to be sought out. Over time, the VTA neurons fire more quickly at the sight, or even thought of, chocolate, explained Lasek. In addiction, VTA neurons are tuned into drugs of abuse, and fire more quickly in relation to consuming or even thinking about drugs, driving the person to seek them out — often at the expense of their own health, family, friends and jobs.

    Many animal studies have shown that alcohol increases the firing of dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA, but little is known about exactly why this occurs.

    Lasek and her colleagues examined the relationship between estrogen, alcohol and the VTA in female mice. They used naturally cycling mice that were allowed to go through their normal estrous cycles, akin to the menstrual cycle in women.

    Mice were evaluated to determine when they entered diestrus — the phase in the estrous cycle when estrogen levels are close to their peak.

    “In mice in diestrus, estrogen levels increase to about 10 times higher than they are in estrus, the phase in which ovulation occurs and estrogen levels drop,” Lasek said.

    VTAs were taken from mice in both estrus and diestrus and kept alive in special chambers. Electrodes recorded the activity of individual dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA. Next, the researchers added alcohol to the chamber. Activity increased twice as much in neurons from mice in diestrus compared to the response of neurons from mice in estrus.

    Lasek and her colleagues then blocked estrogen receptors on dopamine-sensitive neurons in VTA in mice in estrus and diestrus. With the blocker present, the response to alcohol in neurons from mice in diestrus was significantly lower compared with neurons where estrogen receptors remained functional. The estrogen receptor blocker reduced the alcohol response to levels seen in mice in estrus. The responses to alcohol in neurons from mice in estrus were unaffected by the estrogen receptor blocker.

    “The increased reward response to alcohol we see when estrogen levels are high is mediated through receptors for estrogen in the VTA,” said Mark Brodie, professor of physiology and biophysics in the UIC College of Medicine and a co-author on the paper.

    Lasek believes that the increased sensitivity to alcohol in the VTA when estrogen levels peak may play a significant role in the development of addiction in women.

    “We already know that binge drinking can lead to lasting changes in the brain, and in women, those changes may be faster and more significant due to the interaction we see between alcohol, the VTA and estrogen,” Lasek said. “Binge drinking can increase the risk of developing alcoholism, so women need to be careful about how much alcohol they drink. They should be aware that they may sometimes inadvertently over-consume alcohol because the area of the brain involved in alcohol reward is responding very strongly.”


  3. Study suggests smoking, binge drinking and unsafe tanning may be linked in men

    November 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Connecticut press release:

    Even though men use tanning beds at lower rates than women, men who tan tend to do it in riskier ways, according to a study by researchers at the University of Connecticut. The findings should help public health officials rethink how, and to whom, they’re targeting anti-tanning messages.

    Because the stereotypical tanning salon client is a young woman, almost all the research and health messaging on tanning has focused on that demographic. But the new research in press in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that one in three people who use tanning beds in the U.S. are male.

    Men who tan report using tanning beds with about the same frequency as women, but smoke and binge drink at higher rates than their female counterparts, and they also tend to treat tanning more like an addiction than women do, say the authors. A full 49 percent of men who used tanning beds fit a pattern of addictive behavior around tanning.

    “That was really surprising,” says lead author Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. “If they tan with the same frequency as women, why would tanning in men be more addictive?”

    Pagoto and her colleagues conducted a national survey of 636 people who answered “yes” when asked whether they had ever used a tanning bed. They queried the participants about frequency of use, preferred locations to tan, how they felt about tanning, and why they did it.

    The differences between men and women were marked. Women preferred to tan in salons, and said they valued low cost, cleanliness, and convenience. Men who tanned preferred less regulated settings, such as gyms or private homes. They said they liked to tan to accentuate the appearance of their muscles, or as a reward after working out. They also reported smoking tobacco, binge drinking alcohol, and drinking soda significantly more often than women who tan.

    Men also answered “yes” when asked if they ever felt anxious if they weren’t able to tan, tanned to relieve stress, or spent money on tanning even when they couldn’t afford it. They agreed with statements such as “I’d like to quit but I keep going back to it.”

    There’s a population of men who tan and engage in other risky behaviors and are very unlike the young women that health educators assume are at risk of tanning bed health impacts, says Pagoto.

    Pagoto and her team are pursuing another study to delve more deeply into who tans, asking questions about sexual orientation, given that recent research has revealed that homosexual men are just as likely to use tanning beds as young women. The research should help health officials trying to warn the public of the very real connection between tanning beds and skin cancer, she says.

    Sun lamps and tanning beds are legal for adult use in all 50 states, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them as a Class 1 carcinogen like tobacco, radon, and arsenic, and the use of tanning beds has been linked to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

    Most current marketing messaging is targeted to teen- and college-aged women, according to Pagoto. Men who tan are unlikely to relate to that type of message. Pagoto is now applying social media marketing principles to develop prevention messages that resonate with specific audience segments.

    “We’re also hoping to spread the message on college campuses, since the tanning industry heavily markets to college students,” she says.


  4. Study looks at how family and friends affect drinking behaviour in young people

    November 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The etiology (i.e., underlying causes) of a behavior, such as alcohol drinking, can change during adolescence and young adulthood. Prior alcohol research has shown that, in general: shared/common environment influences are strongest in early adolescence, declining in strength until young adulthood; unique environmental influences are moderate, but stable, during adolescence and young adulthood; and genetic influences are weakest during early adolescence, steadily increasing in strength until young adulthood. This study examined the relations between genetic and environmental etiologies of alcohol use and the influence of peer use, parental autonomy granting, and maternal closeness on this behavior.

    Researchers analyzed the first three waves of data collected during the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health for 2,447 twin and sibling pairs (30% male pairs, 32% female pairs, 38% opposite sex pairs) ranging in age from 13 to 27 years. Wave 1 was collected from 1994 to 1995, Wave 2 from 1995 to 1996, and Wave 3 from 2001 to 2002.

    Results supported previous findings showing that genetic and environmental influences on alcohol use change during adolescence and young adulthood. In addition to genetic and environmental influences that were common to these age groups, there were genetic and environmental influences that were important only during adolescence. Friends’ drinking behavior was a more pervasive influence on adolescents’ drinking than parenting practices. The authors suggested that interventions and prevention programs geared toward reducing alcohol use in younger populations could benefit from a focus on peer influence.


  5. Early age of drinking leads to neurocognitive and neuropsychological damage

    November 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Although drinking by U.S. adolescents has decreased during the last decade, more than 20 percent of U.S. high-school students continue to drink alcohol before the age of 14 years. This can have adverse effects on their neurodevelopment. For example, youth who initiate drinking before 14 years of age are four times more likely to develop psychosocial, psychiatric, and substance-use difficulties than those who begin drinking after turning 20 years of age. Little is known about howthe age of alcohol-use onset influences brain development. This is the first study to assess the association between age of adolescent drinking onset and neurocognitive performance, taking into account pre-existing cognitive function.

    The researchers examined data from a longitudinal study on the neurocognitive effects of substance use in adolescents: 215 adolescents (127 boys, 88 girls) with minimal alcohol use experience were administered a neuropsychological test battery, which was repeated an average of 6.8 years later. Analyses examined whether earlier ages of onset for first and weekly alcohol use adversely affected neurocognition, controlling for substance-use severity, and familial and social environment factors.

    Results showed that an earlier onset of drinking increases the risk for alcohol-related neurocognitive vulnerabilities, and that the initiation of any or weekly alcohol use at younger ages is a risk factor for poorer, subsequent neuropsychological functioning. More specifically, an earlier age of onset of first drinking predicted poorer performance in the domains of psychomotor speed and visual attention, and an earlier age of onset of weekly drinking predicted poorer performances on tests of cognitive inhibition and working memory. The authors suggested that these findings have important implications for public policies related to the legal drinking age and prevention strategies and further research on these effects is warranted.


  6. Study looks at alcohol’s effect on second language ability

    October 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King’s College London, shows that bilingual speakers’ ability to speak a second language is improved after they have consumed a low dose of alcohol.

    It is well-established that alcohol impairs cognitive and motor functions. ‘Executive functions’, which include the ability to remember, pay attention, and inhibit inappropriate behaviours, are particularly sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol.

    Given that executive functions are important when speaking a second (non-native) language, one might expect that alcohol would impair the ability to speak a second language. On the other hand, alcohol increases self-confidence and reduces social anxiety, both of which might be expected to improve language ability when interacting with another person.

    Furthermore, many bilingual speakers believe that it can improve their ability to speak a second language. The aim of this experimental study was to test these competing predictions for the first time.

    Language performance

    The researchers tested the effects of a low dose of alcohol on participants’ self-rated and observer-rated ability to converse in Dutch. Participants were 50 native German speakers who were studying at a Dutch University (Maastricht) and had recently learned to speak, read and write in Dutch.

    Participants were randomized to consume either a low dose of alcohol or a control beverage that contained no alcohol, before they chatted with an experimenter in Dutch for a few minutes. The exact dose of alcohol varied depending on participants’ body weight, but it was equivalent to just under a pint (460ml) of 5% beer, for a 70kg male.

    The chat was audio-recorded and participants’ foreign language skills were subsequently rated by two native Dutch speakers who did not know if the participant had consumed alcohol or not (observer-ratings). Participants also rated their own Dutch language skills during the conversation (self-ratings).

    The researchers found that participants who had consumed alcohol had significantly better observer-ratings for their Dutch language, specifically better pronunciation, compared to those who had not consumed alcohol. However, alcohol had no effect on self-ratings of Dutch language skills.

    Implications and Limitations

    Dr Inge Kersbergen, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, who was involved in the study, said: “Our study shows that acute alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language in people who recently learned that language. This provides some support for the lay belief (among bilingual speakers) that a low dose of alcohol can improve their ability to speak a second language”

    Dr Fritz Renner who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, said: “It is important to point out that participants in this study consumed a low dose of alcohol. Higher levels of alcohol consumption might not have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language.”

    Dr Jessica Werthmann who was one of the researchers who conducted the study at Maastricht University, said “We need to be cautious about the implications of these results until we know more about what causes the observed results. One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol. But more research is needed to test this.”


  7. Study suggests genetic influences on the brain’s reward, stress systems underlie co-occurring alcohol use disorder, chronic pain

    by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) often co-occurs with chronic pain (CP), yet the relationship between the two is complex — involving genetic, neurophysiological, and behavioral elements — and is poorly understood. This review addressed the genetic influences on brain reward and stress systems that neurological research suggests may contribute to the co-occurrence of AUD and CP.

    Candidate gene association studies (CGAS) and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have provided initial evidence suggesting that a similar dysregulation of reward and stress pathways contribute to AUD and CP, and that genetic influences on these pathways may contribute to both conditions. More specifically, genetic association studies that have looked at AUD and CP independently have identified a number of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — DNA sequence variations — suggestively associated with AUD and CP, with several of these SNPs being located in or near a common set of genes. These common genes are either directly or indirectly related to the reward and stress systems, and are also more broadly involved with the central nervous system (CNS).

    The authors suggested that these results must be interpreted with caution until studies with sufficient statistical power are conducted and replicated. Further, the co-occurrence of AUD and CP reflect a common genetic basis that will likely involve CNS processes other than reward and stress mechanisms in AUD-CP co-occurrence. As the field of molecular genetics continues to advance, if such shared genetic contributions to AUD and CP may be identified, this knowledge can help inform understanding of the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the etiologies of each disorder and their co-occurrence. This would refine and improve the diagnosis and treatment of AUD and CP.


  8. Study suggests having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases risk for teenage dating violence

    October 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    Having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among teenagers, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

    In addition, researchers found that the root causes of teen dating violence can be seen as early as infancy.

    “Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” says Jennifer A. Livingston, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and lead author of the study.

    Livingston evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age. By analyzing data that was collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston was able to identify factors that led to some of the teenagers to be involved in abusive dating relationships.

    “It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” she says.

    Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and, as a result, were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy. “This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston says. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

    These conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood. Children who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with their romantic partners during their teen years.

    “Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston says. “Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years. This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.”


  9. Study suggests binge drinking in college may lower chances of landing a job after college

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    Heavy drinking six times a month reduces the probability that a new college graduate will land a job by 10 percent, according to Tel Aviv University and Cornell University research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

    Previous studies were unable to determine the precise effect of alcohol consumption on first-time employment. But according to the new study, each individual episode of student binge-drinking during a month-long period lowers the odds of attaining full-time employment upon graduation by 1.4 percent.

    “The manner in which students drink appears to be more influential than how much they drink when it comes to predicting the likelihood of getting a job upon graduation,” says Prof. Peter Bamberger of TAU’s Coller School of Business Management and Cornell University, who co-authored the study with Prof. Samuel Bacharach of Cornell University; Prof. Mary Larimer and Prof. Irene Geisner, both of the University of Washington; Jacklyn Koopmann of Auburn University; Prof. Inbal Nahum-Shani of the University of Michigan; and Prof. Mo Wang of the University of Florida.

    “Binge-drinking” is defined as ingesting four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a woman and five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a man, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    How often, not how much

    The research found that a non-binge pattern of drinking does not adversely impact job search results unless and until their drinking reaches binge levels.

    Data for the study was provided by 827 individuals who graduated in 2014, 2015, and 2016 from Cornell, the University of Washington, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan.

    “A student who binge-drinks four times a month has a 6 percent lower probability of finding a job than a student who does not engage in similar drinking habits. Those students who drank heavily six times a month increased their unemployment probability to 10 percent,” says Prof. Bamberger.

    Funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the research is the first installment of a longitudinal study on how alcohol misuse affects the college-to-work transition. More than 16,000 individuals have been contacted as part of the five-year study.

    “This paper is consistent with the recent emphasis on the impact of drinking behavior on career transition from Cornell’s Smithers Institute,” said Prof. Bacharach. “It is in concert with the previous work we’ve done on retirement, and on-boarding [the entry and socialization of newcomers into an organization]. Most importantly, it is also consistent with the Smithers Institute’s continued programmatic interest in substance abuse not only in the workplace, but in the college community as well.”


  10. Immune system linked to alcohol drinking behavior

    September 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Adelaide press release:

    Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found a new link between the brain’s immune system and the desire to drink alcohol in the evening.

    In laboratory studies using mice, researchers have been able to switch off the impulse to drink alcohol by giving mice a drug that blocks a specific response from the immune system in the brain.

    Now published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, this research is one of the first of its kind to show a link between the brain’s immunity and the motivation to drink alcohol at night.

    “Alcohol is the world’s most commonly consumed drug, and there is a greater need than ever to understand the biological mechanisms that drive our need to drink alcohol,” says lead author Jon Jacobsen, PhD student in the University of Adelaide’s Discipline of Pharmacology.

    “Our body’s circadian rhythms affect the ‘reward’ signals we receive in the brain from drug-related behavior, and the peak time for this reward typically occurs during the evening, or dark phase. We wanted to test what the role of the brain’s immune system might have on that reward, and whether or not we could switch it off.”

    The researchers focused their attention on the immune receptor Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). They administered the drug (+)-Naltrexone (pronounced: PLUS-NAL-TREX-OWN), which is known to block TLR4, to mice.

    “Our studies showed a significant reduction in alcohol drinking behavior by mice that had been given (+)-Naltrexone, specifically at night time when the reward for drug-related behavior is usually at its greatest,” Mr Jacobsen says.

    “We concluded that blocking a specific part of the brain’s immune system did in fact substantially decrease the motivation of mice to drink alcohol in the evening.”

    Senior author Professor Mark Hutchinson, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide and leader of the Neuroimmunopharmacology lab in which this work was conducted, says these findings point to the need for further research to understand the implications for drinking behavior in humans.

    “Our study is part of an emerging field which highlights the importance of the brain’s immune system in the desire to drink alcohol. Given the drinking culture that exists in many nations around the world, including Australia, with associated addiction to alcohol and related health and societal issues, we hope our findings will lead to further studies.”

    This research has been funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.