Whether or not you partied your way into 2022, we can all agree the science of ethanol is super fascinating. Here are some of our favourite alcohol stories from 2021.
Low or moderate drinking might not be good for us after all
While the evidence on alcohol consumption varies from study to study, it's generally thought that people who drink in moderation live longer than people who abstain entirely.
But new research casts doubt on this, finding no difference between the lifespans of moderate drinkers and those who've never had alcohol. Instead, the German study suggests that previous research on abstainers' shorter lifespans fails to take into account that many of those abstainers had recovered from alcohol use disorders, addictions and other ailments which increase mortality.
Are those earmuffs, or beermuffs?
Japanese researchers have developed a pair of earmuffs that can measure real-time changes in your blood alcohol concentration. Turns out our ears give off as much alcohol as our breath, so the earmuffs could be an alternative to a breathalyser.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was led by Kohji Mitsubayashi from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University. It presents a proof of concept, describing a modified pair of commercial earmuffs with an ethanol vapour sensor that detects alcohol on the skin, then causes a light to glow at different intensities depending on booze level.
You might also like:
Does wine make the heart flutter?
A few wines a week may slightly decrease risk of irregular heart flutters, according to a study published in Clinical Electrophysiology - but the jury is still well and truly out on whether wine is good for your health, and responsible drinking is still required.
A recent study, involving the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, analysed how small quantities of alcohol affect the risk of arterial fibrillation (AF) - rapid heartbeat that can lead to heart complications. The team found that, while drinking larger volumes of alcohol always has negative outcomes, the lowest risk of AF occurred in people who consumed less than seven glasses of wine a week, even compared to people who drank none.
Metabolised in brain, not liver
A paper published in Nature Metabolism has revealed new information about an enzyme in the brain that's responsible for some of the effects of alcohol intoxication. Ethanol blocks and affects some receptors in the brain itself and also turns into other psychoactive molecules through metabolism. This research focused on one of the metabolites from ethanol: acetate. Acetate is partially responsible for some behavioural effects of alcohol intoxication, because it interacts with the inhibitory GABA neurotransmitter. This can affect motor function, among other things.
The stressful impact of alcohol
Enjoying a couple of drinks or three can be a great way to unwind, oil the conversation and unleash the inner merrymaker.
But why do some of us push on despite swearing "never again" after the last hangover from hell? Researchers from Australia and the US say they've shown - in rats at least - how alcohol impacts brain regions associated with stress and pleasure, and, perhaps not surprisingly, dampens our impulse control.
"We show binge alcohol consumption over a long period of time changes the parts of the brain that manage our responses to stress," says Selena Bartlett from the University of Queensland, senior author of a study published in the journal Neuroscience.
Humans enjoyed beer and blue cheese 2600 years ago
New research, published in Current Biology, shows that preserved human poo - otherwise known as coprolites - in an Iron Age salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria contained traces of two types of fungi known to be used in food fermentation to make blue cheese and beer.
- Published in partnership with Cosmos Magazine. Cosmos is produced by The Royal Institution of Australia.