‘Tis the season to be merry, and many of us take this quite literally.
With Christmas parties and celebrations with friends and family, consumption of alcohol increases by 40 per cent in December, according to addictions charity Addaction.
This not only causes tantrums, tears and office gossip, but also a spike in drink-driving related accidents and suicides.
But many of us are drinking far too much on a regular basis.
More than a quarter of all adults drink over the recommended amount of alcohol, 14 units a week for women and 21 for men, according to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
One unit is the equivalent of one 25ml single measure of whisky, a third of a pint of beer, or half a 175ml glass of wine.
And rather than men, it’s middle-class professional women aged 45 to 64 who are now drinking the most, risking serious and irreversible effects on the body, experts warn.
A glass of wine a night doesn’t seem like much, but a standard 175ml serving contains 2.3 units of alcohol, adding up to 16.1 units over the course of a week – and putting women over the safe drinking limits.
From damaging the heart muscle and re-wiring the brain to causing falls, fractures and infertility, here experts explain the sobering truth about drinking to excess…
INFERTILITY AND MISCARRIAGE
Alcohol can affect a man’s performance in the bedroom, as it causes temporary erectile dysfunction.
In the long term, it reduces testosterone levels, leading to a loss of libido and is toxic to the testes, which harms sperm while they’re being produced or stops them reaching the egg.
Excessive alcohol consumption results the testicles shrinking, leading to impotence, growth of breasts and thinning body hair.
Drinking makes women less fertile too, although it is not fully understood why, according to the British Fertility Society.
It causes imbalances in hormones that control reproduction, and even small amounts can affect a woman’s periods and reduce the chance of conceiving.
One Danish study showed drinking between one and five drinks a week can reduce a women’s chances of conceiving, and 10 drinks or more decreases the likelihood of conception even further.
A 2009 study done at Harvard University of couples undergoing IVF showed that women who drank more than six units per week were 18 per cent less likely to conceive, while men were 14 per cent less likely.
Long-term heavy drinking can cause women to have irregular periods or stop ovulating, or they can stop altogether and she can have an early menopause.
Heavy drinkers who do become pregnant are more likely to have a miscarriage.
MOUTH, THROAT, OESOPHAGUS, LIVER, BOWEL AND BREAST CANCER
There is good evidence drinking alcohol increases the risk of five types of cancer, according to Professor Linda Bauld, of UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and a cancer prevention champion at Cancer Research UK
Next year, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies will change the guidelines on the recommended number of units of alcohol men and women can drink a week.
‘The recommendations are confidential and will be unveiled next year. But we suspect they will be lowered.
‘This is because of accumulative evidence that alcohol causes cancer.’
KEEP OFF THE BOOZE FOR TWO DAYS A WEEK, SAYS HEALTH BOSS
The new figures come as Britain’s top doctor is set to welcome in the new year with a warning not to drink more than three halves of beer at a time and still take two days off drinking a week.
The recommended safe drinking limits for men are expected to be slashed to match the advice given to women.
The new guidelines from Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies are expected to recommend the safe drinking limit for men be set at just two to three units – which would suggest routinely drinking just one large glass of wine with dinner or two pints of bitter after work would take men to levels over the limit.
Three units for five days is likely to breach an expected 14 unit ‘safe’ limit for the week.
NHS advice already states drinkers should abstain for two days if they have a heavy session.
Recommended limits for women are already set at this level and are not expected to change…
Concussions aren’t just for NFL players. They can happen while playing in aweekend sports league or even from an unlucky slip and fall. If you know how to spot a concussion and where to find good treatment, you can avoid the risk of further injury.
While you can get a concussion elsewhere in life—falls, car accidents, and assaults are among the common causes—concussions have a special place in sports. Athletes subject themselves to the possibility for falls and collisions constantly in many sports, and it’s important to pay attention to recovery so that you’re fully healed by the time you return to play.
So first things first: If you have any of the symptoms described in this post, even mild ones, you should step back from any activity where you could injure yourself further. A responsible coach will bench you, even if it’s the middle of a game—and if they don’t, you should remove yourself from play.
To determine if you really do have a concussion, and what you should do about it, you should see a doctor who has expertise in dealing with brain injuries. We spoke with neurologist Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher to bust some myths about concussions and help you understand what to do if you get one.
Spot the Signs and Symptoms
A concussion isn’t a simple injury like a bruise or sprain, where a body part is torn or smashed or broken. Rather, a concussion starts with an injury—often the brain smacking against the inside of the skull—and then the brain cells, attempting to return to normal, alter their function.
Those results can include brain cells firing more or less often than they should, being unable to reach brain cells they normally communicate with, and other subtle changes that don’t show up on MRI or CT scans. Instead, the damage is only noticeable in the way the brain functions. The exact symptoms differ from person to person and injury to injury, and can involve almost any part of the brain. This means symptoms can range from slowed reaction time to difficulty focusing or thinking clearly to nausea and vomiting.
That’s why it’s so important to be on the lookout for the symptoms of a concussion. You could notice them after a hit to the head, or some other fall or collision that whips your brain around without touching your head. A concussion can result from a hit so hard you get knocked out, or it can be a “ding” that you’re tempted to shrug off.
If the hit is one you experienced yourself, watch out for symptoms like:
It’s also your job if you’re a coach—and a good idea just as a friend or teammate—to be on the lookout for signs of a concussion in others. Even if they don’t admit to any of the symptoms above, you should suspect a concussion if someone has:
Changes to balance, coordination, or reaction time
Slow movements or slurred speech
A blank stare or dazed look
Confusion about where they are
Loss of consciousness (which only occurs in about 10 percent of concussions)
Understanding what’s going on is important when you’re standing on the sidelines and wanting to know when you’ll be able to play again. While there are plenty of apps and checklists to help you know what’s going on in case of a suspected concussion, including well-respected tools like the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT3), Dr. Kutcher stresses that these aren’t meant to tell you, as an observer, whether somebody actually has a concussion or not. If somebody “passes” a concussion test, they still shouldn’t go back on the field. Your job as a coach or teammate is to rule out911-level head trauma and then just to help somebody realize that they should sit out. Any further evaluation is a doctor’s job…
Undergoing brain surgery while conscious is an understandably terrifying idea. Sometimes, though, it’s necessary, and patients are faced with psychological trauma from the ordeal. Anew study published in Neurosurgery suggests a possible solution in the form of hypnosis.
Dr. Ilyess Zemmoura of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Tours, France, led a team of researchers in the evaluation of a hypnosis technique called hypnosedation as an alternative for patients undergoing surgery awake. The report showed a high rate of successful hypnosisfor patients undergoing surgery for brain cancer (glioma). They believe the technique could be especially valuable for patients with the more advanced forms of brain cancer.
The reason awake craniotomies is that the patient can be sedated but still conscious so as to be able to communicate during their operation. This helps the surgeon safely navigate the brain to the tumor, without damaging the “eloquent cortex,” or critical brain areas involved in movement and language. Zemmoura and colleagues evaluated their hypnosis in 37 patients undergoing this type of surgery, mainly for low-grade gliomas.
They began prepping patients for hypnosis a few weeks before their surgeries. The hybrid anesthesiologist/hypnotist met with the participant for a short hypnosis session and explanation of how to create a “safe space” in their head.
Once in the operating room, patients underwent hypnosis to reach the point of a hypnotic trance, which was progressively enhanced during the first few steps of surgery, including specific instructions and suggested imagery for potentially unpleasant or painful parts of the surgery. When successful, the process was reliable and reproducible, with questionnaire assessments showing little to no negative psychological impacts. Hypnosedation reduced the impact of stressful or unpleasant events during the surgery — pain seemed to decrease as the level of hypnosis deepened.
Hypnosedation is advantageous because it allows the patient to remain awake throughout the entire surgery, avoiding the need to awaken them in the middle of a standard anesthesia. This can be especially challenging in patients with high-grade gliomas — two of whom had successful experiences with hyposedation during the study.
Hypnosis failed in six patients, who underwent the standard asleep-awake-asleep anesthesia instead. Only two patients said they would not choose hypnosedation if they had to undergo a second awake craniotomy. The results of the study overall were encouraging, but the report notes there is no evidence that hypnosedation is superior to standard anesthesia, and that the execution of the technique required “intense involvement and long term training of the whole team, including the patient.”
Source: Zemmoura I, Fournier E, El-Hage W, Jolly V, Destrieux C, Velut S. Hypnosis for Awake Surgery of Low-grade Dliomas: Description of the method and Psychological Assessment. Neurosurgery. 2015.
And pilots are reporting ever more close encounters with them
ANYONE in America who found a radio-controlled model aeroplane or multicopter drone nestled beneath the Christmas tree ought by now to have registered it with the Federal Aviation Administration, following mandatory safety requirements introduced on December 21st. More than 45,000 people registered their personal UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the first few days. That is a good start, but still a long way from full compliance.
Registration, which applies only to recreational UAVs, costs $5 (waived for those registering before January 21st) and is good for three years. Existing drone-owners and aeromodellers have until February 19th to comply. If the UAV weighs more than 250 grams (0.55lb) and less than 25kg, owners simply apply for a registration certificate and identification number through the FAA’s website. The UAV has to be marked with the certification number before being flown for the first time. Indoor flights do not count.
The directive makes it an offense for anyone to fly a UAV above 400 feet (122 metres) and within five miles (8km) of an airport, unless special permission is received from the airport tower. Owners must keep their drones or model aircraft within line of sight at all times. Failure to comply can result in civil penalties of up to $27,500.
Unlike amateur UAV owners, organisations wishing to operate drones for commercial purposes still have to apply for special exemption from the FAA’s airworthiness requirements. This is granted on a case-by-case basis for a limited range of activities, including movie making, precision agriculture, and powerline and pipeline inspection. In general, though, commercial operators will have to wait for the FAA to finalise a more comprehensive set of safety rules, possibly in a year or so.
The sudden popularity of drones—and the threat they represent to the public and aviation generally—has spurred the FAA into action. Reports of recreational UAVs interfering with regular air traffic have been running at over 100 a month of late. With some 1.6m recreational drones buzzing the skies (400,000 were expected to be bought in the weeks before Christmas), the FAA has been forced to hurry out safety rules before serious accidents occur.
Though none has to date, the risk of a drone being ingested by a jetliner engine and causing a fatal accident is all too real. Bird strikes are bad enough. One of the most feared birds encountered by aircraft is the common Canada goose, weighing anything up to 6kg. In 2009 a collision with a flock of migratory Canada geese caused a US Airways flight to suffer complete loss of power after takeoff from LaGuardia airport, New York. The bird strike could have easily ended in disaster but for the skill of the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who famously brought the stricken Airbus A320 down for a splash landing in the Hudson River without loss of life. The last thing airline pilots need is an additional hazard caused by UAVs weighing as much or more than a Canada goose.
Over the past year, American pilots have reported some 700 close encounters with UAVs of one sort or another. That pales almost into insignificance when compared with the 13,700 bird strikes in America last year, or the 4,000 or so reports of laser pointers being directed at aircraft. But the number of recreational drones is increasing rapidly. If just one percent of those already in circulation were to cause problems, drone threats would exceed bird strikes by a considerable margin…
Somewhere in the neighorhood of 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Gyms get more and more empty as the year winds on, the lure of social media grows increasingly harder to resist, and travel plans get delayed day-by-day until it’s suddenly been a year again. But if you can stick to one particular common resolution — to cut out drinking for a bit — it may have dividends that pay off down the line.
That’s the finding of a study out of the University of Sussex in England, where researchers decided to see how giving up drinking for a month — the 31-day period popularly known as “Dry January” — affected participants’ tendencies for imbibing later on. They found that those who successfully abstained for the duration of the month continued to drink less even once drinking resumed. Additionally, at points both one and six months later, those participants reported they were better able to resist the urge to drink in “social settings when others are drinking, for emotion regulation, and opportunistic drinking.” Put simply, there was an impressive reduction in drunkeness in their lives in general after the month was over.
The study involved 857 volunteers. Of those, 64.1 percent made it through the entire month of January without drinking. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a fairly good predictor of the ability to remain dry throughout the period was the regularity with which participants normally drank — more moderate drinkers fared better than their more boozy peers. Having a partner in not drinking — using the “buddy system,” so to speak — seemed to have little impact on success.
Interestingly, in addition to curbing drinking for those who successfully completed Dry January, even those who merely attempted the challenge also saw a drinking drop off. In other words, failing the initial mission still resulted in benefits.
Researchers admit that since the volunteers were a self-selected group, and there was no control group, there are limits to deductions that can be made about the findings. In any case, the results suggest “that successful completion of one month of abstinence may have lasting effects on drinking behavior and beliefs, and that increases in [the ability to refuse drinks] arising from abstinence attempts may be an important influence on subsequent patterns of alcohol use.”
Is it really conspiracy theories that are spreading faster than ever, or just the way that (dis) information is disseminated in general?The Guardian looks at the increasing influence of conspiracy culture:
“I remember reading about Final Fantasy VII, a movie I was really looking forward to. My initial reaction was disappointment that it was two years away – because by then we’d be under military control.” It was 2004, and Matthew Elliott was in deep. Elliott, from San Antonio, Texas, had first been drawn to conspiracy theories when he was 19, in the aftermath of 9/11. “It seemed unfathomable that we could be attacked,” he says today. In his quest to make sense of what had happened he came across the notorious “truther” movement, a current of opinion that lays blame for the atrocities at the door of the US government.
“The way most conspiracy theories are laid out, one thing always leads to another, so from there I became convinced that a ruling group called the New World Order orchestrated everything. This would all lead to martial law and a complete removal of our freedoms,”he says. A decade later, Elliott, now 34, is a “recovering” conspiracy theorist, having turned his back on a worldview that always posits some covert, powerful force acting against the interests of ordinary people. The change came gradually, but he thinks very differently now. “You can’t even get many of the 50 states to agree on things. Good luck convincing Europeans and Asians to get on board.”
Elliott’s reaction to the trauma of 9/11 was far from unusual. The attacks were so unprecedented, so devastating, that many of us struggled to make sense of them. Early reports were confused or contradictory: as a result some treated the official version of events with scepticism. A proportion of those in turn plumped for an explanation that would require fakery and coordination on a massive scale.
This shouldn’t surprise us: it’s a pattern that is repeated after every global shock, and in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it has reared its head again.Within a day of the terrorist attacks on the French capital, blogs had been published arguing that they were the work of the government – a so-called “false flag” operation. The claims rest on the idea that Isis is the deliberate creation of western governments. More recently, the lawyer for the family of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, fuelled conspiratorial speculation when he said: “There’s a lot of motivation at this time to emphasise or create incidents that will cause gun control or prejudice or hatred towards the Muslim community.”
Round-the-clock coverage of global events means there is a constant supply of crisis and chaos for us to interpret…