‘Hangxiety’: why alcohol gives you a hangover and anxiety


A few drinks can relax you – but, says scientist David Nutt, that morning-after feeling is the booze playing tricks with your brain
Want to avoid ‘hangxiety? Then drink less
Want to avoid ‘hangxiety? Then drink less.

If you are looking forward to your first stiff drink after a dry January, be warned: it may feel bittersweet. You may feel you deserve an alcoholic beverage after toughing it out all month – but have you forgotten what it feels like to wake up haunted by worries about what you said or did the night before? These post-drinking feelings of guilt and stress have come to be known colloquially as “hangxiety”. But what causes them?

David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, is the scientist who was fired in 2009 as the government’s chief drug adviser for saying alcohol is more dangerous than ecstasy and LSD. I tell him I have always assumed my morning-after mood was a result of my brain having shrivelled like a raisin through alcohol-induced dehydration. When Nutt explains the mechanics of how alcohol causes crippling anxiety, he paints an even more offputting picture.

Alcohol, he says, targets the Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptor, which sends chemical messages through the brain and central nervous system to inhibit the activity of nerve cells. Put simply, it calms the brain, reducing excitement by making fewer neurons fire. “Alcohol stimulates Gaba, which is why you get relaxed and cheerful when you drink,” explains Nutt.

The first two drinks lull you into a blissful Gaba-induced state of chill. When you get to the third or fourth drink, another brain-slackening effect kicks in: you start blocking glutamate, the main excitatory transmitter in the brain. “More glutamate means more anxiety,” says Nutt. “Less glutamate means less anxiety.” This is why, he says, “when people get very drunk, they’re even less anxious than when they’re a bit drunk” – not only does alcohol reduce the chatter in your brain by stimulating Gaba, but it further reduces your anxiety by blocking glutamate. In your blissed-out state, you will probably feel that this is all good – but you will be wrong.

The body registers this new imbalance in brain chemicals and attempts to put things right. It is a little like when you eat a lot of sweets and your body goes into insulin-producing overdrive to get the blood sugar levels down to normal; as soon as the sweets have been digested, all that insulin causes your blood sugar to crash. When you are drunk, your body goes on a mission to bring Gaba levels down to normal and turn glutamate back up. When you stop drinking, therefore, you end up with unnaturally low Gaba function and a spike in glutamate – a situation that leads to anxiety, says Nutt. “It leads to seizures as well, which is why people have fits in withdrawal.”

It can take the brain a day or two to return to the status quo, which is why a hair of the dog is so enticing. “If you drank an awful lot for a long time,” says Nutt, “it might take weeks for the brain to readapt. In alcoholics, we’ve found changes in Gaba for years.”

To add to the misery, the anxiety usually kicks in while you are trying to sleep off the booze. “If you measure sleep when people are drunk, they go off to sleep fast. They go into a deeper sleep than normal, which is why they sometimes wet the bed or have night terrors. Then, after about four hours, the withdrawal kicks in – that’s when you wake up all shaky and jittery.”

Imbalances in Gaba and glutamate are not the only problem. Alcohol also causes a small rise in noradrenaline – known as the fight-or-flight hormone. “Noradrenaline suppresses stress when you first take it, and increases it in withdrawal,” says Nutt. “Severe anxiety can be considered a surge of noradrenaline in the brain.”

Another key cause of hangxiety is being unable to remember the mortifying things you are sure you must have said or done while inebriated – another result of your compromised glutamate levels. “You need glutamate to lay down memories,” says Nutt, “and once you’re on the sixth or seventh drink, the glutamate system is blocked, which is why you can’t remember things.”

If this isn’t ringing any bells, it may be because hangxiety does not affect us all equally, as revealed by a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Researchers quizzed healthy young people about their levels of anxiety before, during and the morning after drinking alcohol. According to one of the authors, Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter: “The people who were more shy had much higher levels of anxiety [the following day] than the people who weren’t shy.” The team also found a correlation between having bad hangxiety and the chance of having an alcohol use disorder. “Maybe it’s playing a role in keeping problematic drinking going,” says Morgan.

One theory as to why very shy people might be more at risk of hangxiety and alcoholism is the possibility that alcohol’s seesaw effect on Gaba levels is more pronounced in them. Their baseline Gaba levels may be lower to start with, says Morgan. “It could also be a psychological effect – people who are more highly anxious are more prone to rumination, going over thoughts about the night before, so that’s another potential mechanism.”

However, the study’s findings have wider implications – after all, most drinkers lean on alcohol as social lubrication to some degree.

The bad news is that there seems to be little you can do to avoid hangxiety other than to drink less, and perhaps take painkillers – they will at least ease your headache. “Theoretically, ibuprofen would be better than paracetamol,” says Nutt, “because it’s more anti-inflammatory – but we don’t know how much of the hangover is caused by inflammation. It’s something we’re working on, trying to measure that.”

Morgan suggests trying to break the cycle. “Before drinking in a social situation you feel anxious in, try fast-forwarding to the next day when you’ll have much higher anxiety levels. If you can’t ride that out without drinking, the worry is that you will get stuck in this cycle of problematic drinking where your hangxiety is building and building over time. Drinking might fix social anxiety in the short term, but in the long term it might have pretty detrimental consequences.” Exposure therapy is a common treatment for phobias, where you sit with your fear in order to help you overcome it. “By drinking alcohol, people aren’t giving themselves a chance to do that,” says Morgan.

But there might be hope for the future. Nutt is involved in a project to develop a drink that takes the good bits of alcohol and discards the damaging or detrimental effects. “Alcosynth”, as it is currently called, drowns your sorrows in the same way as alcohol, but without knocking the Gaba and glutamate out of kilter. “We’re in the second stage of fundraising to take it through to a product,” he says. “The industry knows [alcohol] is a toxic substance. If it was discovered today, it would be illegal as a foodstuff.”

Until Alcosynth reaches the market, Nutt says his “strong” message is: “Never treat hangxiety with a hair of the dog. When people start drinking in the mornings to get over their hangxiety, then they’re in the cycle of dependence. It’s a very slippery slope.”

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Here’s How Alcohol Can Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer’s


Story at-a-glance

  • Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago revealed alcohol may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by disrupting the way amyloid beta is cleared
  • Amyloid beta is a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease that can clump together in the brain, building up into groups of clumps or a sticky plaque that may disrupt cell-to-cell signaling
  • The study focused on rat microglial cells, which are immune system cells in the brain and spinal cord that actively work to clear amyloid beta in a process known as phagocytosis
  • Microglial phagocytosis was affected by alcohol, decreasing by about 15 percent after one hour of exposure
  • The study reveals that binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption may make it more likely that the brain will accumulate these damaging proteins, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

By Dr. Mercola

Drinking alcohol has been found to have both a protective and damaging effect on the brain, depending on which study you read and how much alcohol is consumed. The jury is still out on whether light or moderate consumption may be good for your brain, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that heavy drinking is not. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago even revealed how alcohol may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, by disrupting the way amyloid beta is cleared.

Amyloid beta is a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease that can clump together in the brain, building up into groups of clumps or a sticky plaque that may disrupt cell-to-cell signaling.1 The study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation,2 reveals that binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption may make it more likely that the brain will accumulate these damaging proteins, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alcohol May Disrupt Your Brain’s Ability to Clear Harmful Amyloid Beta

The study focused on rat microglial cells, which are immune system cells in the brain and spinal cord that actively work to clear amyloid beta in a process known as phagocytosis. Researchers exposed the microglial cells to alcohol (in a level comparable to that found in people who drink heavily or binge drink), inflammatory cytokines, or a combination of alcohol and cytokines for 24 hours.

The expression of over 300 genes was altered following exposure to alcohol, while exposure to cytokines resulted in changes in more than 3,000 genes and the combined alcohol and cytokines exposure caused changes in over 3,500 genes. Many of the altered genes were involved in phagocytosis and inflammation.3 Notably, microglial phagocytosis was also affected by alcohol, decreasing by about 15 percent after one hour of exposure.

Although the tests were performed in isolated rat cells, which means real-life alcohol consumption in humans may lead to a different result, they suggest that alcohol may hinder the microglia’s ability to clear amyloid beta, thereby increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Speaking with Newsweek, the study’s lead author, Douglas Feinstein, professor of anesthesiology in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, suggested people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s may want to be especially careful with alcohol consumption:4

“There is a large literature supporting the idea that low amounts of alcohol can be beneficial; not only peripherally but in the brain. However, it might be prudent that if someone is at risk to develop AD [Alzheimer’s disease], they should consider to reduce their alcohol intake; and certainly avoid binge or heavy drinking.”

Alcohol Linked to Dementia, Including Alcoholic Dementia

Drinking heavily is known to harm your brain and can lead to alcohol-related brain damage known as alcoholic dementia. The white matter in your brain is considered the “wiring” of your brain’s communication system and is known to decline in quality with age and heavy alcohol consumption. While not a true dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms, such as problems with decision-making, slower reasoning and changes in behavior, can be similar.

However, unlike Alzheimer’s, if you stop drinking alcohol it’s possible to recover, fully or partially, from alcoholic dementia. That being said, heavy drinking or engaging in binge drinking is also linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to two reviews conducted by Alzheimer’s Disease International and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).5

The Alzheimer’s Society explained, “People who drink heavily over a long period of time are more likely to have a reduced volume of the brain’s white matter, which helps to transmit signals between different brain regions.

This can lead to issues with the way the brain functions. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can also result in a lack of vitamin thiamine B1 and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, a memory disorder affecting short-term memory.”6 It’s also been suggested that alcohol may add to the cognitive burden seen in dementia via neuroinflammation.7

NAD and Niacin (Vitamin B3) Are Important if You Have Alcoholism, May Help With Alzheimer’s

People with chronic alcoholism are at risk for niacin deficiency, both due to a reduction in dietary intake of niacin and interfering with the conversion of tryptophan to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD, the dietary precursor of which is niacin).8 It’s also thought that people with lower NAD levels naturally may be at increased risk of addiction, including to alcohol. NAD is also known to be depleted in Alzheimer’s disease. Small doses of NAD (not time released) can be incredibly helpful when provided while weaning off alcohol.

The treatment helps to curb cravings for alcohol, detox the body, flushes alcohol (or other drugs) out of the system and relieves withdrawal symptoms. As a potent antioxidant, NAD helps to create energy in cells’ mitochondria as well as increases the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain.9 What’s more, it’s being considered as an important therapeutic strategy to help maintain optimal function in the brain and possibly even treat Alzheimer’s disease. According to a review in Current Opinion in Psychiatry:10

“Perturbations in the physiological homoeostatic state of the brain during the ageing process can lead to impaired cellular function, and ultimately leads to loss of brain integrity and accelerates cognitive and memory decline.

Increased oxidative stress has been shown to impair normal cellular bioenergetics and enhance the depletion of the essential nucleotides NAD+ and ATP. NAD+ and its precursors have been shown to improve cellular homoeostasis based on association with dietary requirements, and treatment and management of several inflammatory and metabolic diseases in vivo.

Cellular NAD+ pools have been shown to be reduced in the ageing brain, and treatment with NAD+ precursors has been hypothesized to restore these levels and attenuate disruption in cellular bioenergetics.”

NAC May Help You Cut Back on Alcohol, Prevent Alzheimer’s

If you’re a social drinker who perhaps could benefit from cutting back on your drinking, also consider N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a form of the amino acid cysteine and is known to help increase glutathione and reduce the acetaldehyde toxicity11 that causes many hangover symptoms. In addition, NAC is known to reduce alcohol consumption and withdrawal symptoms in rodents and cut down cravings in humans.

In a study of people who averaged one drink a week (or binge drinking 0.3 days a month), NAC increased the likelihood of alcohol abstinence and reduced drinks per week and drinking days per week.12 Meanwhile, if you are planning to have a drink, try taking NAC (at least 200 milligrams) 30 minutes before to help lessen the alcohol’s toxic effects.

NAC is a powerful antioxidant known to directly target free radicals, especially oxygen radicals, which is important since oxidative damage is believed to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease. NAC, in turn, may decrease levels of oxidative damage by protecting mitochondrial function, and in so doing reduce Alzheimer’s risk, especially when combined with lipoic acid (LA). As noted in a review published in Cell Journal:13

“Combination of both LA and NAC maximizes this protective effect suggesting that this may prevent mitochondrial decay associated with aging and age-related disorders such as AD. Antioxidant therapies based on LA and NAC seem promising since they can act on mitochondria, one key source of oxidative stress in aging and neurodegeneration.”

As for whether or not alcohol can be good for your brain, there is some research showing that light-to-moderate drinking may have neuroprotective effects. For instance, consumption of up to three servings of wine daily is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people without the apolipoprotein E4 (APoE4) gene, the gene thought to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.14

However, as James A. Hendrix, Alzheimer’s Association director of global science initiatives, told Newsweek, “no one should start drinking alcohol as a means of lowering dementia risk.”15

More Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking

If you believe you have an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism), seek professional help. If you drink excessively on occasion and would like to cut back, you can try keeping track of how much you drink and setting limits on how much (or little) to consume. You should also avoid places, activities and even people who may tempt you to drink and seek out new positive hobbies and friendships to replace them.16

Exercise is also essential. When you drink, it chemically alters your brain to release dopamine, a chemical your brain associates with rewarding behaviors. When you exercise, this same reward chemical is released, which means you can get a similar “buzz” from working out that you can get from alcohol. In one study, hamsters that ran the most consumed less alcohol, while less active hamsters had greater cravings for and consumption of alcohol.17

In addition, exercise may help to mitigate some of the risks of alcohol consumption. Longtime drinkers who exercise regularly have less damaged white matter in their brains compared to those who rarely or never exercise.18 As a bonus, exercise may also reduce declines in cognitive performance attributed to aging as well as protect against changes related to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.19

Key Strategies for Alzheimer’s Prevention

Avoiding excess alcohol consumption is important in Alzheimer’s prevention, but it’s far from the only tool at your disposal. Dr. Dale Bredesen’s (director of neurodegenerative disease research at the University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA] School of Medicine, and author of “The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline“) ReCODE protocol actually evaluates 150 factors, including biochemistry, genetics and historical imaging, known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

This identifies your disease subtype or combination of subtypes so an effective treatment protocol can be devised. Prevention is far better than treatment, however, and for this it’s important to focus on a diet that powers your brain and body with healthy fats, not net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber), i.e., a ketogenic diet. the ketogenic diet will help you optimize your health by converting from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as your primary source of fuel.

You can learn more about this approach to improving your mitochondrial function, which is also at the heart of Alzheimer’s disease, in my book, “Fat for Fuel.” One of the most common side effects of being a sugar-burner is that you end up with insulin and leptin resistance, which it at the root of most chronic disease. Keep in mind that adopting the ketogenic diet along with intermittent fasting may further boost your results, especially if you have the ApoE4 gene.

By Dr. Mercola

Drinking alcohol has been found to have both a protective and damaging effect on the brain, depending on which study you read and how much alcohol is consumed. The jury is still out on whether light or moderate consumption may be good for your brain, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that heavy drinking is not. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago even revealed how alcohol may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, by disrupting the way amyloid beta is cleared.

Amyloid beta is a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease that can clump together in the brain, building up into groups of clumps or a sticky plaque that may disrupt cell-to-cell signaling.1 The study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation,2 reveals that binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption may make it more likely that the brain will accumulate these damaging proteins, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alcohol May Disrupt Your Brain’s Ability to Clear Harmful Amyloid Beta

The study focused on rat microglial cells, which are immune system cells in the brain and spinal cord that actively work to clear amyloid beta in a process known as phagocytosis. Researchers exposed the microglial cells to alcohol (in a level comparable to that found in people who drink heavily or binge drink), inflammatory cytokines, or a combination of alcohol and cytokines for 24 hours.

The expression of over 300 genes was altered following exposure to alcohol, while exposure to cytokines resulted in changes in more than 3,000 genes and the combined alcohol and cytokines exposure caused changes in over 3,500 genes. Many of the altered genes were involved in phagocytosis and inflammation.3 Notably, microglial phagocytosis was also affected by alcohol, decreasing by about 15 percent after one hour of exposure.

Although the tests were performed in isolated rat cells, which means real-life alcohol consumption in humans may lead to a different result, they suggest that alcohol may hinder the microglia’s ability to clear amyloid beta, thereby increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Speaking with Newsweek, the study’s lead author, Douglas Feinstein, professor of anesthesiology in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, suggested people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s may want to be especially careful with alcohol consumption:4

“There is a large literature supporting the idea that low amounts of alcohol can be beneficial; not only peripherally but in the brain. However, it might be prudent that if someone is at risk to develop AD [Alzheimer’s disease], they should consider to reduce their alcohol intake; and certainly avoid binge or heavy drinking.”

Alcohol Linked to Dementia, Including Alcoholic Dementia

Drinking heavily is known to harm your brain and can lead to alcohol-related brain damage known as alcoholic dementia. The white matter in your brain is considered the “wiring” of your brain’s communication system and is known to decline in quality with age and heavy alcohol consumption. While not a true dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms, such as problems with decision-making, slower reasoning and changes in behavior, can be similar.

However, unlike Alzheimer’s, if you stop drinking alcohol it’s possible to recover, fully or partially, from alcoholic dementia. That being said, heavy drinking or engaging in binge drinking is also linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to two reviews conducted by Alzheimer’s Disease International and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).5

The Alzheimer’s Society explained, “People who drink heavily over a long period of time are more likely to have a reduced volume of the brain’s white matter, which helps to transmit signals between different brain regions.

This can lead to issues with the way the brain functions. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can also result in a lack of vitamin thiamine B1 and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, a memory disorder affecting short-term memory.”6 It’s also been suggested that alcohol may add to the cognitive burden seen in dementia via neuroinflammation.7

NAD and Niacin (Vitamin B3) Are Important if You Have Alcoholism, May Help With Alzheimer’s

People with chronic alcoholism are at risk for niacin deficiency, both due to a reduction in dietary intake of niacin and interfering with the conversion of tryptophan to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD, the dietary precursor of which is niacin).8 It’s also thought that people with lower NAD levels naturally may be at increased risk of addiction, including to alcohol. NAD is also known to be depleted in Alzheimer’s disease. Small doses of NAD (not time released) can be incredibly helpful when provided while weaning off alcohol.

The treatment helps to curb cravings for alcohol, detox the body, flushes alcohol (or other drugs) out of the system and relieves withdrawal symptoms. As a potent antioxidant, NAD helps to create energy in cells’ mitochondria as well as increases the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain.9 What’s more, it’s being considered as an important therapeutic strategy to help maintain optimal function in the brain and possibly even treat Alzheimer’s disease. According to a review in Current Opinion in Psychiatry:10

“Perturbations in the physiological homoeostatic state of the brain during the ageing process can lead to impaired cellular function, and ultimately leads to loss of brain integrity and accelerates cognitive and memory decline.

Increased oxidative stress has been shown to impair normal cellular bioenergetics and enhance the depletion of the essential nucleotides NAD+ and ATP. NAD+ and its precursors have been shown to improve cellular homoeostasis based on association with dietary requirements, and treatment and management of several inflammatory and metabolic diseases in vivo.

Cellular NAD+ pools have been shown to be reduced in the ageing brain, and treatment with NAD+ precursors has been hypothesized to restore these levels and attenuate disruption in cellular bioenergetics.”

NAC May Help You Cut Back on Alcohol, Prevent Alzheimer’s

If you’re a social drinker who perhaps could benefit from cutting back on your drinking, also consider N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a form of the amino acid cysteine and is known to help increase glutathione and reduce the acetaldehyde toxicity11 that causes many hangover symptoms. In addition, NAC is known to reduce alcohol consumption and withdrawal symptoms in rodents and cut down cravings in humans.

In a study of people who averaged one drink a week (or binge drinking 0.3 days a month), NAC increased the likelihood of alcohol abstinence and reduced drinks per week and drinking days per week.12 Meanwhile, if you are planning to have a drink, try taking NAC (at least 200 milligrams) 30 minutes before to help lessen the alcohol’s toxic effects.

NAC is a powerful antioxidant known to directly target free radicals, especially oxygen radicals, which is important since oxidative damage is believed to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease. NAC, in turn, may decrease levels of oxidative damage by protecting mitochondrial function, and in so doing reduce Alzheimer’s risk, especially when combined with lipoic acid (LA). As noted in a review published in Cell Journal:13

“Combination of both LA and NAC maximizes this protective effect suggesting that this may prevent mitochondrial decay associated with aging and age-related disorders such as AD. Antioxidant therapies based on LA and NAC seem promising since they can act on mitochondria, one key source of oxidative stress in aging and neurodegeneration.”

As for whether or not alcohol can be good for your brain, there is some research showing that light-to-moderate drinking may have neuroprotective effects. For instance, consumption of up to three servings of wine daily is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people without the apolipoprotein E4 (APoE4) gene, the gene thought to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.14

However, as James A. Hendrix, Alzheimer’s Association director of global science initiatives, told Newsweek, “no one should start drinking alcohol as a means of lowering dementia risk.”15

More Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking

If you believe you have an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism), seek professional help. If you drink excessively on occasion and would like to cut back, you can try keeping track of how much you drink and setting limits on how much (or little) to consume. You should also avoid places, activities and even people who may tempt you to drink and seek out new positive hobbies and friendships to replace them.16

Exercise is also essential. When you drink, it chemically alters your brain to release dopamine, a chemical your brain associates with rewarding behaviors. When you exercise, this same reward chemical is released, which means you can get a similar “buzz” from working out that you can get from alcohol. In one study, hamsters that ran the most consumed less alcohol, while less active hamsters had greater cravings for and consumption of alcohol.17

In addition, exercise may help to mitigate some of the risks of alcohol consumption. Longtime drinkers who exercise regularly have less damaged white matter in their brains compared to those who rarely or never exercise.18 As a bonus, exercise may also reduce declines in cognitive performance attributed to aging as well as protect against changes related to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.19

Key Strategies for Alzheimer’s Prevention

Avoiding excess alcohol consumption is important in Alzheimer’s prevention, but it’s far from the only tool at your disposal. Dr. Dale Bredesen’s (director of neurodegenerative disease research at the University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA] School of Medicine, and author of “The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline“) ReCODE protocol actually evaluates 150 factors, including biochemistry, genetics and historical imaging, known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

This identifies your disease subtype or combination of subtypes so an effective treatment protocol can be devised. Prevention is far better than treatment, however, and for this it’s important to focus on a diet that powers your brain and body with healthy fats, not net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber), i.e., a ketogenic diet. the ketogenic diet will help you optimize your health by converting from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as your primary source of fuel.

You can learn more about this approach to improving your mitochondrial function, which is also at the heart of Alzheimer’s disease, in my book, “Fat for Fuel.” One of the most common side effects of being a sugar-burner is that you end up with insulin and leptin resistance, which it at the root of most chronic disease. Keep in mind that adopting the ketogenic diet along with intermittent fasting may further boost your results, especially if you have the ApoE4 gene.

Brain Scans Reveal How Drinking Turns People Into Raging Assholes


We all have that friend who gets a little out of hand when they start drinking alcohol. Maybe he gets loud, or maybe she starts fights with strangers for looking at her funny. Alcohol seems to induce aggression, changing the brain in a way that makes a drunk person more likely to see minor social cues as threats, but how it does so has always been a bit of biological mystery.

Scientists found that alcohol-induced aggression was correlated to decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex.

But in a paper published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, a team of researchers led by Thomas Denson, Ph.D., of the University of New South Wales School of Psychology use brain scans to show that alcohol changes activity in certain key parts of the brain related to aggression and emotion.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that tracks changes in blood flow in the brain, the team looked at the brains of 50 young men after they consumed either two alcoholic drinks or two non-alcoholic placebo drinks. These volunteers engaged in a task that gauged their level of aggression in the face of provocation, which revealed the parts of the brain that become more active in such situations.

These scans show how alcohol-induced aggression was related to decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, caudate, and ventral striatum, but increased activity in the hippocampus.
These scans show how alcohol-induced aggression was related to decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, caudate, and ventral striatum, but increased activity in the hippocampus.

The researchers found that alcohol-induced aggression was correlated with decreased activity in prefrontal cortex, caudate, and ventral striatum, but increased activity in the hippocampus. These parts of the brain all control key factors in aggression: The prefrontal cortex is associated with thoughtful action and social behavior, the caudate is linked to the brain’s reward system and inhibitory control, and the ventral striatum is a part of the reward system that makes you feel good when you do something good. The hippocampus, meanwhile, is associated with emotion and memory.

These results support previous hypotheses that prefrontal cortex dysfunction is associated with alcohol-induced aggression. Taking all these brain areas together, the researchers say their findings suggest that intoxicated people have trouble processing information through their working memory. In short, they suspect that alcohol focuses a person’s attention on the cues that could instigate aggression while taking attention away from their knowledge of social norms that say violence is not acceptable.

Along similar lines, they also suspect that alcohol could make relatively minor cues seem aggressive or violent, which can cause a drunk person to overreact to a minor incident, like someone looking at them funny or accidentally bumping into them at the bar. Denson’s previous research on the angry brain found a lot of overlap in the way the prefrontal cortex behaves when someone is drunk and angry versus when they’re simply ruminating on their anger while sober.

This research proposes some possible brain biomarkers for alcohol-induced aggression, which is a significant public health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, alcohol-related violence — including homicide, child abuse, suicide, and firearm injuries — was responsible for more than 16,000 deaths between 2006 and 2010, the most recent years the agency reported figures.

While the new study doesn’t propose a solution per se, it does build on our body of knowledge around an age-old question: Why do some people become assholes when they get drunk?

Abstract: Alcohol intoxication is implicated in approximately half of all violent crimes. Over the past several decades, numerous theories have been proposed to account for the influence of alcohol on aggression. Nearly all of these theories imply that altered functioning in the prefrontal cortex is a proximal cause. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, 50 healthy young men consumed either a low dose of alcohol or a placebo and completed an aggression paradigm against provocative and nonprovocative opponents. Provocation did not affect neural responses. However, relative to sober participants, during acts of aggression, intoxicated participants showed decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, caudate, and ventral striatum, but heightened activation in the hippocampus. Among intoxicated participants, but not among sober participants, aggressive behavior was positively correlated with activation in the medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These results support theories that posit a role for prefrontal cortical dysfunction as an important factor in intoxicated aggression.

How alcohol damages DNA and increases cancer risk


https://speciality.medicaldialogues.in/how-alcohol-damages-dna-and-increases-cancer-risk/

Alcohol Has an Irreversible Effect on Stem Cell DNA, Say Scientists


It’s no secret that heavy drinking is linked to an increased risk of developing cancer, but it’s never really been clear how boozing really does its damage. In a groundbreaking new study published Wednesday, however, scientists report that some cancers occur because alcohol can inflict damage on the DNA of stem cells, which in turn may initiate the development of cancerous tumors.

 The%20effect%20of%20alcohol%20on%20your%20stem%20cells.

In the Nature paper, researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology explain that the damage comes down to the effects of acetaldehyde, a chemical compound and toxin that’s released when the body breaks down alcohol.

Acetaldehyde, the researchers discovered, causes permanent damage to DNA because it can delete and break strands and rearrange chromosomes when the cell lacks a protective enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). Approximately eight percent of the world’s population has an inherited deficiency in this enzyme.

“Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers,” co-author Ketan Patel, Ph.D., of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, told the Guardian.

“But it’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even when people whose defence mechanisms are intact.”

To study this, the researchers genetically engineered mice to have stem cells that didn’t produce ALDH2, the protective enzyme. Then, they gave those mice alcohol. After the mice drank for ten days, the genomes of their stem cells were sequenced, and the results showed that mice lacking the ALDH2 enzyme had four times the damage to their DNA than mice with functioning enzymes. This damage to the stem cells destroyed their ability to create fresh blood cells, which is their major function in the body, the researchers explain, and it may lead to the development of further mutations.

“Our work definitively shows that external factors, like drinking alcohol, can damage DNA in blood stem cells, meaning it could also damage DNA in other types of stem cells,” Patel told Cancer Research UK, a research charity that provided funding for the study. “While we didn’t look at whether these mice got cancer or not, previous studies have show that the type of DNA damage we saw in these mice can considerably increase the risk of cancer.”

A build-up of acetaldehyde can permanently damage DNA.

What type of cancer this process can cause, however, remains to be seen. While this discovery shows alcohol can damage DNA in blood stem cells, Patel notes that there’s no evidence that drinking also means an increased chance of developing blood cancer. Previous research has, however, shown that drinking can increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, breast, bowel, throat, and the esophagus.

The 25 Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2017


Every week in 2017 seemed to bring new, objectively bad news about environmental degradation, government officials being awful, or video gamesbeing ruined by microtransactions. But it wasn’t all bad news: Very exciting and groundbreaking research was added to the scientific literature this year, reminding us that not everything is moving backward.

The 25 studies below, representing the biggest breakthroughs of the year, represent a wide and eclectic range of research areas. Let these snippets from Inverse’s interviews with researchers offer a sense of just how many scientific fields strode forward in 2017:

  • “It’s a terrible way to define different populations,” a geneticist studying skin color said.
  • “Best-case scenario, some of the advertising is true. Worst-case scenario: very little to none of the advertising is true and people may actually get hurt,” said a psychologist about the problems with mindfulness.
  • “What we showed is that diarrhea is actually really good for you,” said a scientist researching diarrhea.

Without further ado, here are the studies that rocked the science world this year, presented in order of popularity among our readers, though not necessarily importance:

25. Neanderthals Never Would Have Outlived Us

Humans still contain a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Even though we know that humans and Neanderthals overlapped for about 15,000 years, scientists aren’t sure how our ancient cousins died out. They’re pretty sure that Neanderthals would have been replaced by humans no matter what. Computer modeling shows that humans migrating out of Africa would have replaced Neanderthals, whether or not they died out from other factors. But while they lived together, Neanderthals left their genetic legacy imprinted in our DNA.

24. Magic Mushrooms Can Help with Depression

Scientists put tripping patients into fMRI machines to observe what their brains did under the influence of psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic, “magic,” mushrooms. They found that patients with depression described feeling “reset” after a trip, and brain scans supported this conclusion. Patients who reported feeling better also showed reduced blood flow to parts of the brain associated with depressive symptoms.

23. Teeth From 9.7 Million Years Ago Could Rewrite Human History

Scientists found teeth in Germany that they suspect come from hominins. They date back to before similar human ancestors arose in Africa, suggesting that we may need to rework the entire human evolutionary timeline. Whether it’s a product of convergent evolution or simply related species, these fossils raise more questions about human origins than they answer.

22. Eating Weed and Spicy Food Is Good for Your Gut

More good news from 2017! Researchers found that marijuana and spicy food can ease inflammation in your digestive system, potentially paving the way for new treatments for Type 1 diabetes, colitis, and other gut issues. Capsaicin, the spicy stuff in chili peppers, makes your digestive system produce a type of cannabinoid that can offer protective benefits to your gastrointestinal tract, suggesting that edible marijuana could do the same thing. This is good news for lovers of spicy food and edibles.

21. Dogs Are Genetically Predisposed to Being Good Boys

It’s not all bad news for 2017: Scientists examining dog genetics found that dog genes predispose them to domestication and prosocial behavior. This study is the first to show why, on a molecular level, dogs are _so good). Interestingly, the scientists also found that the same genetic changes that led to domestication also seems to have made dogs less intelligent than wolves.

20. You’re More Likely to View Atheists as Serial Killers

Even though atheism has become more common in modern society, it turns out believing in something might make you seem less like a psychopath, according to a study published this year. People are more likely to believe that a killer in a hypothetical scenario is an atheist instead of a person of faith, according to research published this year. This finding even held true for atheists, perhaps suggesting some internalized stigma leading to unconscious bias. Even Mark Zuckerberg has taken note of this anti-atheist prejudice, announcing his faith a year ago.

19. Human-Pig Chimeras Have a “Safety Switch”

Scientists shocked the world when they announced they’d developed a human-pig chimera, bringing us a step closer to growing human organs inside pigs. But they also soothed our fears of a pig-man apocalypse when they assured us that there is a self-destruct mechanism for human stem cells that accidentally travel to the pig brains. It’s not even clear whether that would lead to enhanced consciousness, but if this safety switch works, we won’t have to worry about it.

18. Psychologists are Growing Skeptical of Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness has become a pop psychology buzzword recently, and psychology professionals are concerned. Fifteen psychologists published a paper this year outlining their concerns that corporate seminars, meditation workshops, and the like are offering psychological benefits that are unproven while ignoring risks. After all, psychological health is not one-size-fits-all.

17. Even Occasional Drinks Can Affect Your Brain Health

We all know that drinking too much can cause chronic health problems, but a massive cohort study of British civil servants found that moderate drinking accelerates cognitive decline. Over 30 years of surveys and health check-ups, the participants who consumed 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week “had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy,” an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a serious buzzkill, since previous research has suggested that moderate drinking could have certain benefits for heart health. Following this cohort of research subjects further will reveal more about their health as they age.

16. Your Face Shows Signs of Class Boundaries

It’s sometimes easy to tell whether someone is wealthy based on their clothes, car, home, and other material things. But this year researchers found that social status may show in your face, too. This doesn’t mean that some people are genetically predisposed to be rich, but rather that being poor can impart subtle, lifelong mood symptoms that observers can see on your face even when you’re wearing a neutral expression. Worryingly, the researchers found that this judgment can impair hireability, which could perpetuate class boundaries.

15. Scientists Identified the Maximum Human Lifespan

Life extension advocates like to say that, with the right supplements and therapies, you’ll be able to live long enough to see science bring about immortality. But more conventional-thinking researchers say this isn’t so. They identified the maximum human lifespan as 115.7 years for women and 114.1 years for men. This area of research is still hotly debated, but the new findings fit pretty closely to what other groups have said.

14. A Supervolcano Could Go Off Way Sooner Than We Think

As if 2017 wasn’t bad enough, statisticians say we’re overdue for a supervolcano eruption. On the basis of geological records, a team of researchers estimated that cataclysmic supervolcano eruptions on Earth occur, on average, every 17,000 years. The last one happened 20 to 30 thousand years ago. You do the math.

13. Geneticists Discovered That Light Skin Variations Originated in Africa

Science has often been used in the service of justifying racism, but scientists shut down outdated notions of genetic differences among humans of different ethnic groups this year. Geneticists found that variants associated with light skin actually originated in Africa, not only disproving the backward notion that people with darker skin are less human, but also calling into question the notion that skin color can be associated with certain ethnic groups.

12. Scientists Find the Oldest Human Skeleton in the Americas

After re-examining a skeleton stolen from a submerged cave in Mexico, scientists determined that it may represent the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas. At 13,000 years old, the 80-percent-complete skeleton suggests that humans came to the Americas thousands of years before the people that were previously thought to be the first Americans.

11. Diarrhea Is Your Body’s Immune System Savior

Diarrhea sucks, but there’s actually a good reason for it. Mice infected with a mouse bacteria similar to E. coli exhibited changes in intestinal cells in a way that seemed to cause diarrhea. Scientists have long suspected that diarrhea was the body’s way of clearing out disease, but this study provided the first solid proof.

10. Redditors’ Dicks Match Up With Dick Size Desires

Many penis-havers worry about whether their penis size will match up with the preferences of penis-likers. In a study conducted by and among redditors, they found that penis sizes matched up pretty well with what their potential partners want. These findings fit with what academic researchers have found, but maybe this citizen science confirmation will be more digestible for redditors.

9. Porn Can Change Your Brain

People who watch a lot of pornography don’t necessarily have an addiction or a psychological condition. But neuroscientists have found that people who struggle with their porn use exhibit brain changes. They react more strongly to reward cues associated with porn, similar in some ways to gambling addicts. It’s not clear whether porn addiction is a real condition, though.

8. Scientists Send Data to and from Space Using Quantum Entanglement

Scientists in China transmitted a quantum state almost a thousand miles into space, much farther than had been done previously. This development brought scientists one step closer to the kind of technology that could enable quantum computing. Quantum entanglement is a burgeoning topic in physics that even Albert Einstein didn’t believe could exist.

7. Human Mini-Brain Organoids Raise Ethical Concerns

Scientists can grow miniature models of human organs, called organoids that allow them to perform research that would be unethical on living. But when scientists reported that human brain organoids grafted onto rat brains had begun to integrate, this raised ethical red flags. If a rat has a partially human brain, should we be doing science on it that we wouldn’t do on a human?

Alex Jones

6. Conspiracy Theorists Think Differently

European social psychologists have shed some light on what makes the nearly half of American conspiracy theorists different from the rest. They exhibit a phenomenon called illusory pattern perception, which makes them see patterns of danger where there is no danger. This is the first scientific evidence linking illusory pattern perception to belief in conspiracy theories.

5. Ancient Humans Knew How to Avoid Incest

We know that incest increases the chances of developing genetic diseases, but it turns out our early human ancestors knew about the risks of incest, too. Geneticists and archaeologists examining 34,000-year-old human remains from Russia found that four people buried together were no closer than second cousins, suggesting that even ancient humans made efforts to avoid inbreeding. Researchers say this probably means these early humans made a purposeful effort to mix outside their family groups, including some semblance of romance, as indicated by the jewelry included in their collective burial.

4. Scientists Discovered Our Black Hole Neighbors

Astronomers using NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescope found evidence of two super-massive black holes. At the center of galaxies near the Milky Way, they’re still millions of light-years away, but in relative terms, they’re our next-door neighbors.

3. Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Your Brain

Marijuana is safe, as far as drugs go, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally free of long-term consequences. In a mouse study, neuroscientists found that long-term marijuana use can lead to abnormally high dopamine levels. This suggests that marijuana could be messing with your brain chemistry more than you thought.

2. Scientists Figured Out That Tattoo Ink Doesn’t Stay Put

That’s right, even though the whole idea of a tattoo is that the ink goes into your skin and never comes out, researchers have found that ink pigment nanoparticles migrate and accumulate in people’s lymph nodes. It makes sense since your lymphatic system gets rid of bad stuff and tattoo ink is essentially a foreign invader.

Couple of alcoholic drinks a day could protect heart, say scientists


Red wine is poured into a glass 
Women who raised their alcohol intake by two drinks per day lowered their risk of heart disease 

Acouple of glasses of wine or beer each night lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease, new research has shown.

Although alcohol was found to raise the risk of breast cancer for women, it appears to have a protective effect on the heart.

A study of 22,000 post-menopausal women in Denmark found those who increased their alcohol intake by two drinks per day over five years had a 20 per cent decreased risk of coronary heart disease and a 30 per cent increased risk of breast cancer.

In January Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, issued new alcohol guidelines which drastically cut the safe level of consumption to a maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women, which equates to less than two glasses of wine per night.

Dame Sally also told women to think about the risks of  breast cancerbefore deciding whether to have a glass of wine. Alcohol is responsible for about 11 per cent of female breast cancers in the UK.

Although the new research did find a link to cancer, it also showed that alcohol may be beneficial for other health conditions. Experts believe that alcohol can bring down the risk of heart disease by raising levels of ‘good’ cholesterol

The study, by the University of Southern Denmark, also found that lowering alcohol intake did not lower the risk for either disease.

“We found that an increased alcohol intake over a five year period resulted in a higher risk of breast cancer and a lower risk of coronary heart disease among postmenopausal women, compared with a stable alcohol intake,” said lead author Professor Janne Tolstrup .

“The results support the hypotheses that alcohol is associated with breast cancer and coronary heart disease in opposite directions.”

There are 80,000 deaths from heart disease each year and it will cause the deaths of one in five men and one in seven women.

A breast scan 
Increasing alcohol intake does increase the risk of breast cancer 

Research by the Mediterranean Neurological Institute published this week also found that drinking two small cans of beer a day protects against heart disease by around one quarter.

The authors looked at 150 studies into the link between heart disease and beer and came to the conclusion that moderate drinking is likely to be beneficial.

“Unless they are at high risk for alcohol-related cancers or alcohol dependency there is no reason to discourage healthy adults who are already light or moderate beer consumers from continuing,” they said.

In February Dame Sally told the House of Commons science and technology committee that evidence suggesting wine could protect the heart was less robust than had previously been thought.

And she said the NHS had “done so much with statins” and other medical treatments for heart disease that the case for drinking wine to protect the heart was weaker than it used to be.

Professor Tim Key, Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford also said there were better ways to lower heart disease risk than drinking alcohol.

“There may be some benefit with low to moderate intakes of alcohol, but this could be outweighed by an increased risk of breast cancer and other morbidities.

“The risk of heart disease can be reduced substantially by other lifestyle changes, as well as by drugs such as statins shown to be effective in primary prevention.”

Charities also warned that it was still important to lower alcohol intake.

Sally Greenbrook, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said: “When it comes to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer, it is difficult to separate out the real impact of food from other lifestyle factors and so we would encourage everyone to be as active as possible and to limit alcohol intake, in addition to eating a healthy diet.”

Laughter Is a Better Social Lubricant Than Alcohol


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Scientists are finding how laughter — more so than alcohol — can be a great social lubricant. BPS reports that after laughing, people seem willing to divulge personal stories or quirks that they wouldn’t otherwise reveal.

In order to test this idea, Alan Gray and his team of researchers write:

“We tested this hypothesis experimentally by comparing the characteristics of self-disclosing statements produced by those who had previously watched one of three video clips that differed in the extent to which they elicited laughter and positive affect.”

The participants watched an “inoffensive observational comedy,” a clip from the nature documentary Planet Earth, or an instructional video on golfing. None of the clips was more or less positive than the last, but the comedy video differentiated itself by eliciting more laughter from participants.

After watching one of the three clips, the participants were instructed to write five pieces of personal information they were willing to share. Observers then rated how intimate these personal details were on a scale of one to 10. Researchers reviewed the observers’ ratings, and found that the comedy clips yielded more personal tales. For example, one participant in the comedy group wrote, “In January I broke my collarbone falling off a pole while pole dancing.”

The researchers believe “that this effect may be due, at least in part, to laughter itself and not simply to a change in positive affect.”

What’s more, when participants rated how intimate they thought their own writings were, compared to observers, they thought what they had disclosed was quite tame. This effect has led researchers to suggest that “laughter increases people’s willingness to disclose, but that they may not necessarily be aware that it is doing so.”

For businesses, you’ll be happy to hear that a recent study shows a meeting with laughter tends to garner more creative ideas.

Source: Bigthink

Alcohol Is Worse for Mental Health than Psychedelics.


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In a study of 130,000 American adults, including 19,299 psychedelics users, researchers failed to find evidence that taking psychotropic substances results in serious mental health problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, continues to drive rates of depression and suicide higher because it easily aggravates smaller mental health issues into something larger.

Funded by the Research Council of Norway, scientists found that people often reported experiencing deep and meaningful events while under the influence of substances like LSD or psychedelic mushrooms. While those reports were subjective, the study also looked at clinical conditions like serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts and plans, depression, and anxiety.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances.”

Teri Krebs, a neuroscientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who helped lead the study, concludes that it is difficult to seefrom a public health perspective any government’s justification for outlawing the use of psychedelic substances: “Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances.”

Popular author and Stanford philosophy graduate Sam Harris explains his own experience with psychedelic drugs during his Big Think interview. Early in the clip, Harris offers important caveats to taking hallucinogenic drugs because many are neurotoxins. For the serious inquirer, however, they are a way to further explore the nature of consciousness.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Alcohol, tobacco and time spent outdoors linked to brain connections


Alcohol, tobacco and time spent outdoors linked to brain connections

Exciting early results from analysing the brain imaging data, alongside thousands of measures of lifestyle, physical fitness, cognitive health and physical measures such as body-mass-index (BMI) and bone density have been published in Nature Neuroscience.

 The high quality of the imaging data and very large number of subjects allowed researchers to identify more than 30,000 significant associations between the many different brain imaging measures and the non-imaging measures. The findings have now been made available for use by researchers worldwide.

Results included:

  • Strong associations between people’s cognitive processing speed and markers of the integrity of the brain’s “wiring” and the size of brain structures. These effects increased in strength as people aged.
  • A negative correlation between during a simple shape-matching task and intelligence, an effect that didn’t relate to participants’ age. This might be because the people who scored more highly on the cognitive tests needed to use less of their brain to carry out the task.
  • A pattern of strong associations between higher blood pressure, greater alcohol consumption, and several measures that could reflect injury to connections in the brain.
  • A separate pattern of correlations, linking intake of alcohol and tobacco and changes in red blood cells and cardiac fitness, to brain imaging signals associated with increased iron deposits in the brain.
  • Researchers also unearthed some more complicated patterns of correlation. For example, one pattern links brain imaging to intelligence, level of education, and a set of lifestyle factors that at first appear unrelated – including amount of time spent outdoors. It is plausible that, taken together, these factors create a profile of socio-economic-status and its relation to the brain.
  • However, because UK Biobank is an “observational” study that characterizes a cross-section of individuals, it’s not always straightforward to establish which factors cause which, but such results should help scientists to define much more precise questions to address in the future search for ways of preventing or treating brain disease.

UK Biobank will be the world’s largest health imaging study. The imaging is funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation. It was launched in April 2016 after a number of years of planning and consultation with a large number of health and scanning experts. With the ambitious goal of imaging 100,000 existing UK Biobank participants, it is creating the biggest collection of scans of internal organs, to transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases, including dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and stroke.

 Today’s paper describes the brain imaging part of UK Biobank, led by Professsors Steve Smith and Karla Miller from the University of Oxford, and Professor Paul Matthews from Imperial College London.

Professor Miller said: “We are using cutting-edge MRI scans and Big Data analysis methods to get the most comprehensive window into the brain that current imaging technology allows.”

“These results are just a first glimpse into this massive, rich dataset will that emerge in the coming years. It is an unparalleled resource that will transform our understanding of many common diseases.”

Professor Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Chair and Head of Brain Sciences at Imperial, added: “These results are exciting, but merely provide a first hint of what can be discovered with the UK Biobank. This project also is a landmark because of the way it has been done: 500,000 volunteers across the U.K. are donating their time to be part of it and more than 125 scientists from across the world contributed to the design of the imaging enhancement alone. Imperial College scientists played a major role in its inception and leadership as part of a team recruited by the U.K. biobank from a number of UK universities. This is a wonderful example of “open science”.

The paper reports first results from this remarkable data resource, which includes six different kinds of brain imaging done in the 30 minutes that each volunteer is in the brain scanner.

Professor Smith explained: “We have ‘structural imaging’ – that tells us about brain anatomy – the shapes and sizes of the different parts of the brain. Another kind – ‘functional MRI’ – tells us about complex patterns of brain activity. Yet another kind – ‘diffusion MRI’ – tells us about the brain’s wiring diagram. The rich and diverse information contained in these scans will reveal how the working of the brain can change with aging and disease; different diseases will best be understood through different combinations of information across these different images.”

UK Biobank has already scanned 10,000 participants, including images of the heart, body, bone and blood vessels in addition to brain scans. This will be by far the largest brain imaging study ever conducted; within another 5 years UK Biobank will have completed the scanning of 100,000 participants.

One reason for needing such large numbers of participants is to have enough subjects to allow discovery of early, possibly subtle, markers of future disease risk, both for a range of and for rare neurological disorders like motor neuron disease.

An important objective of the UK Biobank is to provide a resource for discovery of new insights into diseases like Alzheimer’s, which demands scanning healthy subjects years or decades before they develop symptoms. From the UK Biobank data, scientists anywhere can aim to learn much more about brain diseases – and their relationship to a broad range of other diseases or disease risks – to guide the development of earlier targeted treatment (or changes in lifestyle) that could in the future prevent major diseases from ever happening.

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