Moderate alcohol intake — defined as no more than one alcoholic drink for women and two for men per day — has been associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease when compared with individuals who abstain from drinking or partake in excessive drinking, according to a new study being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session. It’s also the first study to show that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may be heart protective, in part, by reducing stress-related brain signals based on a subset of patients who underwent brain imaging.
“We found that stress-related activity in the brain was higher in non-drinkers when compared with people who drank moderately, while people who drank excessively (more than 14 drinks per week) had the highest level of stress-related brain activity,” said Kenechukwu Mezue, MD, a fellow in nuclear cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study’s lead author. “The thought is that moderate amounts of alcohol may have effects on the brain that can help you relax, reduce stress levels and, perhaps through these mechanisms, lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”
While Mezue was quick to caution that these findings should not encourage alcohol use, he said they could open doors to new therapeutics or prescribing stress-relieving activities like exercise or yoga to help minimize stress signals in the brain.
Increased consumption of flavanols – a group of molecules occurring naturally in fruit and vegetables – could protect people from mental stress-induced cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart disease and thrombosis, according to new research.
Researchers have discovered that blood vessels were able to function better during mental stress when people were given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink.
A thin membrane of cells lining the heart and blood vessels, when functioning efficiently the endothelium helps to reduce the risk of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, tumor growth, thrombosis, and severe viral infectious diseases. We know that mental stress can have a negative effect on blood vessel function.
A UK research team from the University of Birmingham examined the effects of cocoa flavanols on stress-induced changes on vascular function – publishing their findings in Nutrients.
Lead author, Dr. Catarina Rendeiro, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, explains: “We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes”.
“Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables. By utilizing the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress) we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods.”
In a randomized study, conducted by postgraduate student Rosalind Baynham, a group of healthy men drank a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 minutes before completing an eight-minute mental stress task.
The researchers measured forearm blood flow and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress and assessed functioning of the blood vessels up to 90 min post stress – discovering that blood vessel function was less impaired when the participants drank high-flavanol cocoa. The researchers also discovered that flavanols improve blood flow during stress.
Stress is highly prevalent in today’s society and has been linked with both psychological and physical health. Mental stress induces immediate increases in heart rate and blood pressure (BP) in healthy adults and also results in temporary impairments in the function of arteries even after the episode of stress has ceased.
Single episodes of stress have been shown to increase the risk of acute cardiovascular events and the impact of stress on the blood vessels has been suggested to contribute to these stress-induced cardiovascular events. Indeed, previous research by Dr Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-investigator on this study, has shown that people at risk for cardiovascular disease show poorer vascular responses to acute stress.
“Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols – particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea and unprocessed cocoa. This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress,” commented Dr. Rendeiro.
Acai (ah-sigh-EE) berries are a grape-like fruit native to the rainforests of South America. They are harvested from acai palm trees.
The fruits are about 1 to 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter and a deep purple color. The seed constitutes about 80 percent of the fruit. The taste of acai berries has been described as a blend of chocolate and berries, with a slight metallic aftertaste.
Everyone experiences events in their own unique way. Take the COVID-19 pandemic – please. (With apologies to Henny Youngman). Turns out there is a negative bias to most peoples’ perceptions.
The survey examined the experiences of 4,149 adults living in the United States and how the crisis is impacting their mental health, physical health, romantic relationships, encounters of prejudice.
The Chapman University National COVID-19 and Mental Health Survey provides an in-depth look at the experiences of 4,149 adults living in the United States. The study asked questions about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people’s mental health, physical health, romantic relationships and encounters of prejudice and discrimination.
What Are the Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Behaviors?
Conducted at the end of April 2020, survey findings revealed that most people are staying home more than normal (89%), and the majority reported feeling more stressed (61%), nervous, anxious, or on edge (60%), and feeling down, depressed, or hopeless (45%) than normal due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. People attributed the changes in their health behaviors to the pandemic, with about one-third reporting eating more because of stress (37%), eating more junk food (41%) and getting less exercise (35%).
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Or is it?
Yes, the holiday season can be magical — with all of its dazzling displays of lights, parades, festive parties and fun family gatherings. But it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year, when Christmas shopping is unfinished, budgets get blown and out-of-town guests overstay their welcome.
Furman University Associate Professor of Psychology Cinnamon Stetler says it’s unrealistic to think you can eliminate all holiday stress.
Regular readers know that I am a big fan of walking. I call it the Cinderella of the exercise world because it is so unappreciated. If you want to learn a lot more about the benefits of walking – after you watch this less than five minute video – check out my Page – Why you should walk more.
One of my favorite songs as a kid in the 1940’s was “Don’t fence me in.”
Here are some of the lyrics: Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in
It appears I still feel that way, particularly when it comes to exercise. Working out in the health club really turns me off.
A new report reveals that exposure to green space reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.
I have written numerous times about using deep breathing to combat stress. Turns out that a recent study from Brigham Young University says that exercise helps to combat negative effects of stress.
The study, newly published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, finds that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” said study senior author Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said. “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
To see the paper online, click here. Ten undergraduate BYU students served as co-authors on the paper, included David Marriott, who began the project for his undergraduate honor’s thesis. First author Roxanne Miller graduated in December with her Ph.D. and the research was part of her dissertation.
“Even though we will never be able to completely remove stress from our lives, it is nice to know that we can go out and do cardiovascular exercise for 20 minutes a day to help keep the stress from overwhelming our brains,” Miller said.
A hundred years ago, it seems, I dated a woman who taught yoga. While we were dating I did yoga every day. After we parted, I still practiced daily yoga for some years. While I still do yoga from time to time, one aspect I have carried into my daily life is breath control. I can honestly say that I use it to calm myself at some point every day of my life. I also employ it at night when I finally crawl under the covers. I am quick to sleep. Herewith Harvard Medical School on relaxation techiques.
The term “fight or flight” is also known as the stress response. It’s what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.
Health problems are one result. A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply.
Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Now, it seems that our bodies are taking it upon themselves to extend our life span.
Research shows a collection of small adaptations in stress activated proteins, accumulated over millennia of human history, could help to explain our increased natural defenses and longer lifespan.
Publishing in NatureCommunications, the team of collaborators from the UK, France and Finland and lead by researchers at Newcastle University, UK explain the importance of a protein called p62.
Many cells in our body, such as those which make up our brain need to last us a lifetime. To do this our cells have developed ways of protecting themselves. One way is through a process called autophagy, which literally means self-eating, where damaged components are collected together and removed from the cell.
This is very important as accumulation of damage in cells has been linked to several diseases including dementia.
Lead author, Dr Viktor Korolchuk from Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing explains: “As we age, we accumulate damage in our cells and so it is thought that activating autophagy could help us treat older people suffering from dementia. In order to be able to do this we need to understand how we can induce this cell cleaning.”