Home Health DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Incredible new health secrets linked to not being able to hold down the drink or the ‘wine flush’, including which cancer you’re most at risk for and what it means for your waistline

DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Incredible new health secrets linked to not being able to hold down the drink or the ‘wine flush’, including which cancer you’re most at risk for and what it means for your waistline

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DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: Incredible new health secrets linked to not being able to hold down the drink or the 'wine flush', including which cancer you're most at risk for and what it means for your waistline

Do you drink a lot or are you a bit light (like me)? Blame your genes. A study published last week reveals the huge impact our genes have on our ability to tolerate alcohol and why some people can drink much more than others without, at least in the short term, feeling the effects.

Like most people in the UK, I have an alcoholic drink at least once a week, but for me it’s very much a love-hate relationship.

While I’ve never been a big drinker (I blush and get migraines if I drink too much), I enjoy a glass of red wine from time to time with a meal, and sometimes more so when I’m out at night.

Nowadays, however, I get drunk faster and drink less alcohol than before, and the hangovers are much, much worse. This is not surprising, since most of us become more sensitive to alcohol as we age.

This is partly because our livers don’t work as well as they used to, but also because we tend to lose muscle and gain more fat as we age. Fat, unlike muscle, is not as good at absorbing alcohol. But regardless of age, why do some people handle alcohol so much better?

Gender plays a role: Men can typically drink more alcohol than women, mainly because we are larger and tend to have more muscles. But much of it is also due to the luck of the genetic draw.

Compelling evidence of this has emerged from research conducted by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in the United States.

The researchers explored this question by exploring data collected from more than 3 million people by genetics company 23andMe (one of the first commercial companies to analyze DNA from a saliva sample and provide information about their genes, as well as their ancestors). .

I had my DNA tested and discovered that my ancestors are primarily European, with a touch of Middle Eastern. I also had a surprising amount of genes inherited from a distant Neanderthal ancestor (apparently twice the normal levels), and some studies suggest that could be beneficial for my immune system.

In addition to your ancestry, you also learn a lot about your health, including whether you are more likely to gain weight or have genes that make you particularly vulnerable to dementia (the answer, in my case, to both questions is ‘No’).

Of course, such analysis is not foolproof: we don’t know all the genes related to weight gain, for example, and there’s also the fact that the way you live your life can change the way your genes are expressed. However, what the new study showed was that some people had a particular set of genes that meant that when they drank even a modest amount of alcohol they suffered many unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and flushing, the researchers wrote in eBioMedicine last month. .

Normally, when you drink alcohol, the body converts the alcohol (or ethanol) in the drink into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. This, in turn, is converted to carbon dioxide and water, which leaves the body through breath or urine.

If you have genes that convert alcohol to acetaldehyde quickly, or lack genes that produce an enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde, this toxic substance builds up, and that quickly makes you feel sick if you drink too much. It’s not surprising that people like me, who have these genes, tend to drink less than others because of the short-term unpleasant effects.

According to this study, we tend not to like whiskey and are more likely to turn red and suffer “wine headaches.” Because our genes cause us to drink less, researchers found that we are less likely to suffer from liver disease or depression; We also have lower blood pressure, less risk of heart disease, and suffer fewer fractures than normal (probably because we don’t fall as much).

But not all are good news. To their surprise, researchers also found that people whose genes mean they can’t tolerate alcohol have a higher risk of skin cancer and are more likely to be emotional eaters (when you eat as a way to help you deal with your feelings, rather than simply because you are hungry) and you are also more likely to be nearsighted.

Researchers are currently trying to unravel these unlikely links.

As for me, I have long tried to convince myself that the advantages of drinking, such as being sociable and enjoying a temporary mood lift, outweigh the following disadvantages (bad mood and headaches).

Then, a few months ago, I decided to try to stop drinking during the week.

I’ve found that resolution to be relatively easy to keep, so I’ll try to make it permanent. I’ll tell you how it goes.

I’m not good at small talk, so I sometimes have difficulty when talking to strangers. I also tend to avoid talking about topics like politics with someone I’ve just met, in case things go wrong.

But new research, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests I’m being too cautious and, as a result, missing something.

When volunteers were asked to discuss topics such as abortion and climate change with people who held very different views, far from being unpleasant, they said they found these conversations insightful.

And volunteers said they enjoyed being paired with someone whose opinions they disagreed with, which is encouraging.

The “unhealthy” foods you wish you’d been eating for years

In medical school in the 1980s, we were taught that the main reason our patients were overweight and at risk for heart disease was because they ate too much saturated fat (found in foods like milk, cheese, and sugar). butter).

One consultant told us that “eating saturated fat will clog your arteries just as surely as pouring lard down the drain will clog the sink.”

Since then, there have been a host of studies that undermine this message, and yet it is still the advice you are most likely to hear from the NHS.

They also used to tell us to avoid foods high in cholesterol, like eggs, and to limit them to no more than one a week. Supermarkets were soon filled to the brim with “cholesterol-free” foods.

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However, it turns out that this was nonsense and the effects of the cholesterol we eat on our blood levels are very small.

In a recent study (presented at the American College of Cardiology conference), people who were asked to eat 12 eggs a week for four months showed no measurable changes in their cholesterol levels compared to those who only ate two. eggs per week or less.

And it seems that the dangers of cholesterol have been seriously exaggerated. For a long time we were told that because eating saturated fat increases levels of “bad” or LDL cholesterol (which it does), higher levels of LDL inevitably lead to heart disease. But that’s not true.

A study, published in BMJ Open last month, which analyzed data from more than 170,000 middle-aged patients, found that those with LDL levels higher than recommended actually had a lower risk of dying from heart attacks than those whose LDL levels LDL were higher than recommended. at or below recommended levels. This is something that has been discovered in other research.

Instead of LDL, a better predictor of mortality is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL score. In fact, we need cholesterol to make hormones like estrogen and testosterone; It is also an essential part of cell membranes.

That’s why nowadays I eat eggs most mornings. I also happily eat butter, full fat Greek yogurt, and whole milk. I cook with olive oil and eat a lot of blue fish.

I just wish I could go back in time and advise my younger self that decades of eating low-fat foods wouldn’t offer me any protection in the future.

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