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The Science of "Breaking the Seal"

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If you like beer, and like it in large quantities, this might be a familiar scenario: You sit down at the bar, get a beer and drink it. You drink another one. Maybe a third. Things have gone well up to this point, but now you have to pee. So you go. Once you return to your seat and keep drinking, though, it feels like you’ve crossed a point of no return, and you have to pee again and again.

You’ve "broken the seal." After that initial pee, you seem to have to run to the bathroom every 15 to 20 minutes for the rest of the night, and the urine just won’t stop flowing. What’s going on?

Part of what makes you pee so much while boozing is that alcohol inhibits arginine vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone or ADH. ADH is made in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, and then stored and released from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Its job is to conserve water in the body by reducing its loss in urine. It binds to receptors on the kidneys and promotes water reabsorption, a decrease in the volume of urine sent to the bladder, and excretion of more concentrated urine.

Alcohol throws a wrench into the works, though, and blocks certain nerve channels that help get ADH secreting out into your system. Without ADH carrying on about conserving water, the kidneys don’t reabsorb water as easily and excess water winds up getting dumped into urine to leave the body. With alcohol keeping ADH from doing its job, you produce a lot more water-diluted urine, which fills the bladder quickly and makes you have to pee more often.

So, there’s really no seal to break, no dam to crack open. If anything, the damage was done when you took your first drink and started suppressing your ADH, not when you took your first pee.

Keep Going

But how come you can hold your pee just fine until that first bathroom break, and then it seems you have to go constantly?

First, it takes a little bit of time for alcohol to suppress ADH and for the kidneys to ramp up the water works. When you crack open your first beer, you may have some urine in your bladder already, but also some ADH in your system to keep things from getting out of hand. As you continue to drink, though, your ADH levels drop and your urine production increases. By the time your bladder has filled and you're ready to go to the john, you’ve probably had a few more drinks. Your ADH is more suppressed and your kidneys are working at full tilt, so you’re going to have to go more often.

Additionally, alcoholic beverages can be a bladder irritant for many people and the carbonation of drinks like beer and champagne can cause gas and pressure that contribute to that irritation. As your bladder fills up again after the initial pee, all that irritation can create a very strong urge to pee some more and make your bladder feel fuller than it really is, sending you running to the bathroom over and over again throughout the night.

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Big Questions
If Beer and Bread Use Almost the Exact Same Ingredients, Why Isn't Bread Alcoholic?
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If beer and bread use almost the exact same ingredients (minus hops) why isn't bread alcoholic?

Josh Velson:

All yeast breads contain some amount of alcohol. Have you ever smelled a rising loaf of bread or, better yet, smelled the air underneath dough that has been covered while rising? It smells really boozy. And that sweet smell that fresh-baked bread has under the yeast and nutty Maillard reaction notes? Alcohol.

However, during the baking process, most of the alcohol in the dough evaporates into the atmosphere. This is basically the same thing that happens to much of the water in the dough as well. And it’s long been known that bread contains residual alcohol—up to 1.9 percent of it. In the 1920s, the American Chemical Society even had a set of experimenters report on it.

Anecdotally, I’ve also accidentally made really boozy bread by letting a white bread dough rise for too long. The end result was that not enough of the alcohol boiled off, and the darned thing tasted like alcohol. You can also taste alcohol in the doughy bits of underbaked white bread, which I categorically do not recommend you try making.

Putting on my industrial biochemistry hat here, many [people] claim that alcohol is only the product of a “starvation process” on yeast once they run out of oxygen. That’s wrong.

The most common brewers and bread yeasts, of the Saccharomyces genus (and some of the Brettanomyces genus, also used to produce beer), will produce alcohol in both a beer wort
and in bread dough immediately, regardless of aeration. This is actually a surprising result, as it runs counter to what is most efficient for the cell (and, incidentally, the simplistic version of yeast biology that is often taught to home brewers). The expectation would be that the cell would perform aerobic respiration (full conversion of sugar and oxygen to carbon dioxide and water) until oxygen runs out, and only then revert to alcoholic fermentation, which runs without oxygen but produces less energy.

Instead, if a Saccharomyces yeast finds itself in a high-sugar environment, regardless of the presence of air it will start producing ethanol, shunting sugar into the anaerobic respiration pathway while still running the aerobic process in parallel. This phenomenon is known as the Crabtree effect, and is speculated to be an adaptation to suppress competing organisms
in the high-sugar environment because ethanol has antiseptic properties that yeasts are tolerant to but competitors are not. It’s a quirk of Saccharomyces biology that you basically only learn about if you spent a long time doing way too much yeast cell culture … like me.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Health
Attention Moscow Mule Fans: Those Copper Mugs May Pose a Serious Health Threat
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Even if you can’t list the ingredients in a Moscow Mule, you may be able to recognize one from across a bar: The simple combination of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer is traditionally served in a copper mug. But that trendy vessel could pose a serious health threat, according to public health officials. As CBS News reports, the potential for food poisoning from those iconic cups is severe enough that the state of Iowa is taking a stand against them.

Copper is commonly used to make kitchenware like pots and pans, but when it comes into contact with certain foods, it can be unsafe. Foods and liquids that have a pH lower than 6.0, and are therefore acidic, can erode the copper and copper alloys and cause them to mix with whatever’s being consumed. The pH of lime juice falls between 2.0 and 2.35 [PDF], so the chances of copper contamination from a Moscow Mule sloshing inside a copper mug all night are high.

Symptoms of copper poisoning include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and yellow skin or jaundice. Even if you feel fine after a night of Moscow Mule imbibing, long-term effects like liver damage can occur over time. In response to these hazards, Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division released a statement [PDF] advising against the use of Moscow Mule mugs. “The recent popularity of Moscow Mules, an alcoholic cocktail typically served in a copper mug, has led to inquiries regarding the safe use of copper mugs and this beverage,” it reads. “The use of copper and copper alloys as a food contact surface is limited in Iowa.”

If you’re hesitant to put your Moscow Mule obsession to bed, there are ways to enjoy the drink safely without sacrificing the classic look. When stocking your bar at home, make sure to include copper mugs lined with food-safe metal like nickel or stainless steel. And when you’re ordering the drink elsewhere, you can check with the bartender to see if they have similar containers. If not, asking for the drink in a boring old glass is your safest bet.

[h/t CBS News]

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