Sorry, Barflies: Dry January Isn't a Fix For Heavy Drinking

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iStock

Briefly cutting back on alcohol can save money, and it might even temporarily improve your sleep or help you lose weight. But as Inside Science reports, Dry January—the increasingly popular practice of giving up booze for the entire first month of the year—might not confer any lasting health benefits if you're planning on hitting the bars again come February.

Researchers say there's just not enough data to gauge whether short-term abstinence pays off in the long run. In fact, studies have indicated that people who are forced to stop drinking for periods of time (such as military recruits) end up overdoing it after they're allowed to imbibe again. And going booze-free affects people differently based on age, gender, genetics, and drinking habits.

That said, volunteer abstinence—with plenty of social support—could prompt positive change. Richard de Visser, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England, published a study in 2016 in the journal Health Psychology based on follow-up questionnaires answered by Dry January participants. The surveys revealed that many people actually ended up drinking less overall, even after their alcohol hiatus was over.

"Even if participants took part but didn't successfully complete the 31 days, it generally led to a significant decrease across all the measures of alcohol intake," de Visser told BBC News. (Critics of the study pointed out that its participants belonged to a self-selecting group that had successfully scaled down their alcohol consumption.)

Meanwhile, a mini-experiment conducted by New Scientist journalists in 2013 challenged the notion that short-term sobriety doesn't pay off. After ultrasounds and blood tests, 10 staffers gave up booze for five weeks, while four continued drinking as they always had. Tests done after the experiment showed that the abstainer participants' liver fat, a precursor to liver disease, had fallen by an average of 15 percent, and their total cholesterol and blood glucose levels had also dropped. They also lost weight and reported better sleep quality.

Experts said they didn't know how long these physical benefits would last, and cautioned against viewing a month's sobriety as a quick fix. But they did conclude that the results were promising—and that they might be even more pronounced if people reduced their overall booze intake year-round.

[h/t Inside Science]

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

iStock/grinvalds
iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

A Chemical in Spider Venom Could Be a Key to Killing Skin Cancer Cells

Alan Couch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Alan Couch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite their formidable reputation in the eyes of arachnophobes, spiders contribute to human society in a number of positive ways. On a practical level, they can reduce the population of insects in your home by trapping them for meals. Outdoors, they keep pests from destroying gardens and crops, making sure we don't slip into a period of famine and anarchy. In the lab, scientists have identified a number of chemicals in their venom as possible building blocks for medicines treating everything from pain to muscular dystrophy.

That field of study has led to a promising discovery. In Australia, researchers have isolated one particular compound in a funnel-web spider's venom that can diminish skin cancer cells.

Scientists at QIMR Berghofer and the University of Queensland began studying the Australian funnel-web spider known as Hadronyche infensa after a similar Brazilian arachnid, Acanthoscurria gomesiana, was shown to carry a peptide in its venom called gomesin that has cancer-fighting properties. Identifying a similar peptide in the Australian spider, the researchers demonstrated that the chemical was effective in killing skin cancer cells while leaving healthy skin cells alone.

The peptide was tested on human melanoma cells, eradicating the majority of them. In mice, it also slowed the growth of the melanomas. The peptide was even effective in killing cells found in facial tumors of Tasmanian devils, a marsupial susceptible to an aggressive form of skin cancer transmittable through biting. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

These peptides are able to be manipulated, taking on different properties as scientists alter amino acids to create new and potentially more potent versions. It’s hoped that this line of research will lead to the development of treatments for skin cancer in humans.

It's something to think about the next time you consider swatting a spider—though if you happen to reside in Australia and see the funnel-web variety, you might not have a choice. While there are 35 different species of funnel-webs of varying potency, some are so formidable that their fangs can pierce fingernails, and their venom is able to kill a human in less than 15 minutes.

[h/t New Atlas]

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