Like cocaine: how mixing energy drinks and alcohol can give teens chronic brain health issues
Also in health news: new research shows exposure to air pollution may trigger heart disease even in the healthy; and reducing omega 6 and increasing omega 3 in your diet may reduce obesity
Jägerbombs or vodka Red Bull are commonly enjoyed cocktails, but a new study warns that adolescents who drink such highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages trigger changes in their brains similar to those from taking cocaine. The consequences, according to study in mice from Purdue University published in the journal PLOS ONE, last into adulthood and include an altered ability to deal with rewarding substances.
The researchers gave adolescent mice caffeinated alcohol and these animals showed physical and neurochemical signs similar to mice given cocaine. “It seems the two substances together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behaviour and changes the neurochemistry in their brains,” says Richard van Rijn, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue. “We’re clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other.”
With repeated exposure to the caffeinated alcohol, those mice became increasingly more active. The researchers also detected increased levels of the protein FosB, which is marker of long-term changes in neurochemistry, also elevated in those abusing drugs such as cocaine or morphine. “That’s one reason why it’s so difficult for drug users to quit, because of these lasting changes in the brain,” van Rijn says.
The researchers also found that mice exposed to caffeinated alcohol during adolescence were less sensitive to the pleasurable effects of cocaine. Confirming this theory, in further tests it was found that the caffeine/alcohol-exposed mice drank significantly more of a pleasurable substance – the artificial sweetener, saccharine – than mice exposed to water during adolescence.
Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults
Air pollution is known to trigger heart attacks or strokes in susceptible, high-risk individuals such as the sick or elderly. A new study shows healthy young people could suffer adverse effects even with merely periodic exposure (much less near-constant exposure in Hong Kong).
“These findings suggest that living in a polluted environment could promote the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke more pervasively and at an earlier stage than previously thought,” says Aruni Bhatnagar, study co-author and professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
The study involved 72 healthy, non-smoking adults with an average age of 23, in Utah. During the winters of 2013, 2014 and 2015, participants provided blood samples, which researchers then tested for markers of cardiovascular disease. These blood markers were evaluated with the component of air pollution known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – emitted from motor vehicles, factories, power plants, fires and smoking.
It was found that periodic exposure to PM2.5 was associated with several abnormal changes in the blood that are markers for cardiovascular disease. As air pollution rose, they found that small micro-particles indicating cell injury and death significantly increased in number; levels of proteins that inhibit blood vessel growth increased; and proteins that signify blood-vessel inflammation also showed significant increases.
Cut dietary omega 6 and boost omega 3 to curb obesity rates, urge experts
Governments and international bodies should ditch their obsession with calories and energy expenditure to curb soaring obesity rates, and instead focus on restoring the correct balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids in the food supply chain and diet, urge experts in an editorial in the online journal Open Heart.
While the body needs both types of fatty acid, the dietary ratio is now a belt-busting 16:1 rather than the healthy 1: 2 or 1:1, argue Dr Artemis Simopoulos of the Centre for Genetics, Nutrition, and Health, Washington, and Dr James DiNicolantonio of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas. Major changes in food supply over the past century, as a result of technological advances and modern farming methods, have distorted the omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio in the typical Western diet, say the authors.
The production of vegetable oils high in omega 6, such as sunflower, safflower and corn, has soared, while animal feeds have switched from grass, which contains omega 3, to grain, resulting in higher levels of omega 6 in meat, eggs and dairy products.
Fatty acids act directly on the central nervous system, influencing food intake and the sensitivity of the hormones involved in blood sugar control (insulin) and appetite suppression (leptin). Too much omega 6 promotes inflammation and is prothrombotic (increasing the risk of blood clotting) as well as boosting production of white fat tissue that is stored rather than “good” energy-burning brown fat tissue. Copious amounts of white fat and chronic inflammation are the hallmarks of obesity, the authors point out, as well as being linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer.