Binge drinking in adolescence may increase risk for anxiety later in life

A growing body of evidence supports the idea that alcohol exposure early in life has lasting effects on the brain and increases the risk of psychological problems in adulthood. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming. The findings of the study, which was conducted in animals, was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“Binge drinking early in life modifies the brain and changes connectivity in the brain, especially in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation and anxiety, in ways we don’t totally understand yet,” said Subhash Pandey, professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, director of the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics and lead author of the study. “But what we do know is that epigenetic changes are lasting, and increase susceptibility to psychological issues later in life, even if drinking that took place early in life is stopped.”

“Epigenetics” refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA, or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic alterations are required for the normal development of the brain, but they can be modified in response to environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.

Full story at Science Daily

Finding the elusive drinking ‘brake’

It’s a common scene in bars and clubs: messy, falling-down drunk, slurring and incoherent, precariously close to catastrophe … and asking the bartender for another shot.

For the majority of us who imbibe, there is a certain point at which we stop pounding the drinks, and many reasons we do so. Maybe we sense that we’re close to our limit, or we notice we don’t feel as well—physically and emotionally—as we did a couple of glasses ago. And sometimes the sedative effects of the  just take over. But for a certain subset of people, nothing—not the risk of losing control or the threat of nausea and dizziness—is enough to put the brakes on their drinking.

UC Santa Barbara neuroscientist Karen Szumlinski, who investigates binge drinking and the repeated stress of overdrinking on the brain, suggests a neurobiological mechanism might underpin this behavior. She and her team have uncovered a mechanism in a small brain structure called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) that helps sense alcohol’s negative effects and modulates the urge to drink. When it doesn’t function properly, however, we lose the ability to perceive when we’ve had enough—or, perhaps, one too many—and we continue to drink.

Full story at Medical Xpress

Breast cancer: Cut down on alcohol to lower risk

New research involving Australian women aged 45 years and over found that the majority of this cohort believes that there is not a significant link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. That could not be less true, the investigators warn.

The World Health Organization (WHO) note that breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in women across the world.

Many factors can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, some of which are nonmodifiable — chiefly age and sex — and some of which a person can act upon, including a lack of physical activity or being overweight.

Full story at Medical News Today

Heavy drinking in teens causes lasting changes in emotional center of brain

Binge drinking in adolescence has been shown to have lasting effects on the wiring of the brain and is associated with increased risk for psychological problems and alcohol use disorder later in life.

Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics have shown that some of these lasting changes are the result of epigenetic changes that alter the expression of a protein crucial for the formation and maintenance of neural connections in the amygdala — the part of the brain involved in emotion, fear and anxiety. Their results, which are based on the analysis of postmortem human brain tissue, are published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Epigenetics refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic modifications are involved in the normal development of the brain, but they can be influenced by environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.

Full story at Science Daily

Different brain areas linked to smoking and drinking

Academics at the University of Warwick have found that low functional connectivity of the lateral orbitofrontal cortex that is associated with the tendency to smoke is associated with increased impulsiveness — which may contribute to the tendency to smoke. The high connectivity of the reward-related medial orbitofrontal cortex in drinkers may increase the tendency to be attracted to the reward of alcohol consumption.

A new study by Professor Jianfeng Feng, Professor Edmund Rolls from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Warwick, in collaboration with Dr. Wei Cheng from Fudan University, China, examined the neural mechanisms underlying two key types of substance use behavior, smoking and drinking.

In 2000 participants they found that smokers had low functional connectivity in general, and especially in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with impulsive behavior. This suggests that people who smoke may do so to increase their overall brain connectivity with the stimulating effect of nicotine; and that being impulsive may be a factor leading to smoking.

Full story at Science Daily