Stories tagged alcohol

Ever pull that old bottle of beer out of the back of the fridge and try to remember how old it is? Should I drink it? It might be months, maybe even a year or two old. Well how about 11,000-year-old breweries? Archaeologists have found some very old evidence of breweries and it has created a debate over if grain production started as a way to make beer or bread.

Jun
07
2010

Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.
Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.Courtesy Urban Mixer
That's right, vodka is 103%. According. To. Me.

And today, on the birthday of Paul Gauguin, the inventor of vodka*, we learn that that extra 3% is composed largely of science. Possibly.

See, vodka is supposed to be a neutral spirit—pretty much just a tasteless 40% ethyl alcohol, 60% water solution. (Tasteless except for the taste of alcohol, which is very strong.) And yet, when you get to the age where going to a bar is an appropriate thing to do, you will see and hear gentlemen saying things like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" And then they give the bartender an amount of money they probably worked half an hour or more to earn.

Why?

Three reasons:

1) Something about filtering. Whatever.

2) Some people are ridiculous. If you ever say something like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" you're one of them. But that's ok, because it takes all kinds, you know?

3) Apparently there may be some science to their seemingly arbitrary brand loyalty, even though they may not be conscious of it.

In the 40/60 alcohol/water solution we call vodka, groups of molecules called "hydrates" form. Hydrates in vodka consist of a molecule of alcohol sequestered by a bunch of water molecules, bonded together with hydrogen. If the bottle of vodka were a club, say, the alcohol would be like an attractive individual, surrounded by damp gentlemen united by their taste for premium vodka. (Don't think about it too much—it's a dangerously recursive metaphor.)

Scientists carefully analyzed several different popular brands of vodka, and found that the concentration of hydrates differed in each. So a good vodka might be like a happening club, with lots of attractive people surrounded by fellas. Or maybe it'd be like a very exclusive club, with just a few foxy people being ground into sweaty embarrassment on a relatively lonely dance floor.

The scientists didn't go so far as to say what concentration of hydrates was best, only that different concentrations might lend to an individual's brand preference. Instead of actually tasting the difference, though, drinkers might "perceive" the concentration of hydrates through other qualities, like how "watery" the vodka feels (even though all the brands tested had the same concentration of water.)

So there may be something to the practice of ordering specific expensive brands of vodka, and then drinking them straight. That doesn’t mean you should do it, though.

*Not true. Paul Gauguin never invented vodka. He did die of syphilis, though. Happy birthday, Paul!

Sep
09
2008

That hint of a smile?: That's from the happy memories. Those people in the background? Those are the bad memories getting ready.
That hint of a smile?: That's from the happy memories. Those people in the background? Those are the bad memories getting ready.Courtesy Bistrosavage
Scientists have discovered what I’m calling a magic potion that has the remarkable affect of strengthening memories you acquire before drinking it, and weakening the recollection of events that occur afterwards.

The name of this potion? We call it whisky.

We also call it beer, wine, and liquor of all stripes. Indeed, we call it alcohol.

What’s new here? Time and time again, we wake up wearing women’s clothing (or not wearing women’s clothing) and we think, “Sure, I’m wearing a dress, but how exactly did this happen? The last thing I remember is drinking some sort of magic potion…” The effects of alcohol on the memories of what happens afterwards are pretty well documented, even if the memories themselves aren’t. What’s new is the finding that consuming alcohol seems to reinforce memories formed before drinking. Memories like, “this is a sharp new pair of men’s slacks I’m wearing,” or “it doesn’t look like I’m going to embarrass myself tonight.”

Although the specific mechanisms through which alcohol affects memory are still not fully understood, the research works pretty well in explaining why people tend to continue drinking even if they’ve had bad experiences with it in the past—pleasant memories associated with pre-drinking time, like socializing with friends, are very strong, while the less enjoyable experiences after drinking, like struggling to unlock what may or may not be the door to your own apartment, quickly fade away.

The findings also seem to correspond with a study I did a post on last year regarding sad, drunk rats. The major difference, as far as I can see, has to do with the fact that rats very rarely wear women’s clothing. (I assume this is only because of the scarcity of specialty stores.)

Jul
30
2008

Bud-weis-er: Tree shrews of Malayia have been found to go on two-hour benders each night, drinking "palm beer" from the fermented nectar of palm trees in the rain forests. And they don't even have a hangover the next morning.
Bud-weis-er: Tree shrews of Malayia have been found to go on two-hour benders each night, drinking "palm beer" from the fermented nectar of palm trees in the rain forests. And they don't even have a hangover the next morning.Courtesy S. Karthikeyan
Where are the places that you find high amounts of alcohol consumption? College campuses, sea ports that host sailor shore leaves, NFL stadium parking lots. Now add the Malaysian rain forest to that mix.

It seems that the tiny pen-tailed tree shrew can drink any and all of its larger mammalian cohorts under the table. In fact, life is just one long happy hour for this little creature.

The shrews have a steady diet of “palm beer,” a fermented concoction that occurs in the nectar of flowers of the Bertram palm. Scientists have measured the alcohol content to the “palm beer” to be 3.8 percent, about the same level as most brewed beers.

Through their research, scientists have found the shrews spend about two hours a night guzzling their “palm beer.” And by testing hair samples of the critters, they’ve discovered the beer is their primary food source and that their alcohol consumption is at a rate that would likely kill other mammals.

But don’t set up an intervention and head the pen-tailed shrews off to a 12-step program just yet. Over their 55 million years of existence, they’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol that allows them to have normal functionality despite their heavy beer intake. After all, a drunk shrew is going to be pretty easy pickings for a larger predator. It appears that the shrews have developed a fast-paced metabolism to be able to handle their beer intake with little effect.

So keep this in mind if you’re hosting a kegger any time soon. The more pen-tailed tree shrews you invite, the more beer you’re going to need to have on hand.

Researchers in Sweden have found that people who drink regularly were 40% to 55% less likely to develop arthritis.

Meanwhile, doctors in San Diego have found that drinking a glass of wine a day decreases the chance of liver disease and increases longevity.

May
20
2008

Focus, kiddo: By about number 18, it can be difficult for mouth and glass to match up, but what are you? A quitter? A little kid?
Focus, kiddo: By about number 18, it can be difficult for mouth and glass to match up, but what are you? A quitter? A little kid?Courtesy ian boyd
You know, I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time I get a PhD. I can’t see a downside to it: I could hang the certificate in my kitchen, maybe look into a professorship, and—until I get knighted—Doctor Gordon has a nice ring to it.

I was concerned for some time that there might be too much work and original thought required (I don’t enjoy either), but certain evidence makes me think that that might not be a huge factor.

Anyway, maybe I’ll sleep on it.

In other news, it turns out that boys and girls drink too much on their 21st birthdays.

Whoa! I screwed that up! What I meant to say was: Buckle up, Buzzketeers, because we now know that young people binge drink immediately after binge drinking becomes a legal option!

How could we possibly know this? Because if we know one thing about drunks, it’s that they are quiet and they keep to themselves. So how do we know? No, you’re wrong. We know because researchers at the University of Missouri figured it out. They cracked the code! Feel free to read this multiple times at your own pace, but the findings basically break down as follows: 1) Many college students drink to excess on their 21st birthdays; and 2) This can potentially jeopardize their health.

“This study provides the first empirical evidence that 21st birthday drinking is a pervasive custom in which binge drinking is the norm,” says the study’s lead author, a PhD holder. “This is my chair,” she continued. “I can sit on it, as can other people, assuming I am not already occupying it. Over here is the refrigerator, which keeps food cold. As you can see, many perishable items can be stored within the “fridge” for an extended period of time—hey, why didn’t the little light come on? Oh, I see, the little light bulb is burned out.”

Of the students surveyed, 34 percent of men and 24 percent of women reported consuming 21 alcoholic beverages or more on their 21st birthdays. The maximum number of drinks for women was 30, and 50 for men—awfully impressive, in a 21-year-old alcoholic kind of way. I don’t think I could drink 50 shots of water. But, were I drinking dozens of shots of water, I could probably be relied upon to count them accurately. And I would, because that’s something I would brag about.

Dude, I drank so much last night. Like, I need a new filter for my water pitcher. I was peeing for, like, hours.

Dec
20
2007

Is this your medicine cabinate?: Recent studies show that moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent you from catching a cold, but it won't cure you once you have one.
Is this your medicine cabinate?: Recent studies show that moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent you from catching a cold, but it won't cure you once you have one.Courtesy brosner
Here’s some interesting news to consider in advance of your New Year’s Eve celebration. Moderate drinking of alcohol could help keep away the common cold.

A recent study found a 60 percent reduction in the risk of developing a cold among people who drank eight to 14 glasses of wine per week. Especially effective in preventing colds was the consumption of red wine. However, the study only looked at the linkages between alcohol consumption and cold risk. It didn’t go into the reasons why alcohol use could diminish the chances of getting a cold. Some researchers surmise that wine may have particular antioxidant properties that help fend off colds.

The findings of this study, conducted back in 2002, were resurrected after a report earlier this week in the New York Times that completely quashed the concept that drinking alcoholic beverages can help cure a cold.

That research showed that no study has ever been able to show that alcohol absorbed into the bloodstream can kill germs. The effects of alcohol consumption may relieve cold symptoms, but they won’t cure your cold. And since most alcoholic beverages will dehydrate you, they more likely will prolong any cold symptoms that you’re dealing with.

Sep
28
2007

Cancer causer?: A new European study is showing stronger links between daily alcohol consumption by women and their risk for breast cancer. (Flickr photo by wildflowers)
Cancer causer?: A new European study is showing stronger links between daily alcohol consumption by women and their risk for breast cancer. (Flickr photo by wildflowers)
Sometimes we write summaries of studies that have a very limited sampling of participants. Here’s one that’s more robust, and seems to have some startling news with it.

Heavy to moderate drinking of alcohol can hike up risks of developing breast cancer significantly, according to a study presented in Spain this week. The study followed the drinking habits and cancer incidences of 70,000 women.

In more detail, the study shows that women to had one or two drinks a day increased their risk for breast cancer by 10 percent. Those who drank three or more alcoholic beverages a day saw their breast cancer risks jump 30 percent.

And according to the study, it really didn’t matter what kind of alcohol was consumed: beer, wine or spirits. The European study also jives closely with the results of a 10-year study that’s been conducted in the San Francisco area which also is looking at the alcohol/breast cancer connection.

The findings fly counter to the health benefits that other studies have shown for drinking one glass a wine a day. Several studies have shown that a regular, minimal intake of wine each day can help decrease coronary problems.

Researchers in the European study acknowledge that female drinkers could be getting conflicting messages from the various studies. And they conclude that individual women should consider their family history with cancer and heart problems when deciding how often and how much they drink, particularly wine.

Scientists don't yet know why alcohol affects breast cancer.

Interested in more recent breast cancer developments? Read about this new cancer detection bra being developed in the U.K.

Sep
22
2007

Label the labels: Finland will soon be requiring health warnings on all alcohol containers to try to prevent problems and accidents that come from over indulging. Do you think this will be an effective way to curb those problems? (Flickr photo by photos for fun)
Label the labels: Finland will soon be requiring health warnings on all alcohol containers to try to prevent problems and accidents that come from over indulging. Do you think this will be an effective way to curb those problems? (Flickr photo by photos for fun)
Here in the U.S., we have warning labels on all kinds of products that are hazardous to our health.

Now comes word that Finland has taken action to require warning labels on alcohol containers starting in 2009. The official message will read (translated into English): WARNING: Alcohol endangers the development of a fetus and your health.

The Nordic country took the action after statistics show that alcohol-related problems have become the No. 1 cause of death in Finland. Health officials report that over 25% of all accidents requiring medical treatment involve alcohol consumption. That number soars to 50% on weekends.

It’s a new tactic to deal with problem drinking in the country. It used to have a monopoly on hard liquor sales through its state-owned liquor stores, where prices were kept very high. But Finnish drinkers got around that by taking “booze cruises” to neighboring Russia and Estonia where alcohol prices were much cheaper.

To counter that, three years ago Finland cut its alcohol taxes by 40%, but has now seen the increase in alcohol-related incidents.

Do you think warning labels are going to help turn the tide on this? Are there more effective strategies to deal with problem drinking? Share your ideas here with other Science Buzz readers.