The Takeaway: Older Adults Binge Drink Most Frequently; Exercise Hormone Fights Fat

Binge drinking-that’s only a problem on college campuses, right? Uh, wrong. Very wrong, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which finds that adults over 65 binge on alcohol more frequently than any other age group. Binge drinking-defined as having 5 or more alcoholic drinks (for men) or 4 or more alcoholic drinks (for women) within a short time period-shouldn’t be confused with alcoholism; most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent, the CDC notes. But the new data does show that binge drinking “is a bigger problem than previously thought.”

The age group with the most binge drinkers was 18-34 year olds, and the ‘intensity’ of their drinking was higher, too. But the 65+ population binge drinks most often, the researchers found. Amongst older binge drinkers, the average frequency was 5-6 times per month.

“Seniors may be particularly susceptible to health risks from alcohol consumption,” the Huffington Post notes. Alcohol can have an increased effect on older drinkers; may be dangerous when combined with certain medications; and could worsen or cause certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, stroke, memory loss and high blood pressure. [For more on older adults and alcohol, see this National Institute on Aging report.]

Across all age groups, one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month. Adult binge drinking is most common in the Midwest, New England, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Hawaii. On average, however, the number of drinks consumed when binge drinking is highest in the Midwest, southern Mountain states (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah), and in some southern states (such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina) where binge drinking was less common.  

Hormone Converts ‘Belly Fat’ Cells: A hormone produced in our bodies when we exercise can turn dangerous white fat into more helpful brown fat, suggests a study published this week in Nature. The newly-discovered hormone, named ‘irisin,’ has scientists all abuzz. From New York Times‘ Well blog:

… how muscle cells “talk” to fat, what they tell the fat and what role exercise has in sparking or sustaining that conversation have been mysteries – until, in the new study, scientists closely examined the operations of a substance called PGC1-alpha, which is produced in abundance in muscles during and after exercise.

“It seems clear that PGC1a stimulates many of the recognized health benefits of exercise,” said Bruce Spiegelman, the Stanley J. Korsmeyer professor of cell biology and medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, who led the study. Mice bred to produce preternaturally large amounts of PGC1a in their muscles are typically resistant to age-related obesity and diabetes, much as people who regularly exercise are.

So exercise triggers PGC1-alpha, and PGC1-alpha triggers the release of the hormone, irinsin-which it turns out is especially good at fighting deep, visceral fat around the organs (aka ‘belly fat‘). It does this by converting dangerous visceral fat cells into brown fat cells, which (unlike most fat) are ‘metabolically active,’ meaning they’re capable of burning calories. Until 2009, scientists thought human adults didn’t even have brown fat. “In essence, irisin appears to be one of the more important missing links in our understanding of how exercise improves health,” Well’s Gretchen Reynolds writes.

Good Report For Vitamin D: A group of medical experts publishing in Europe’s Maturitas journal recommends vitamin D supplements for menopausal and post-menopausal women. “In healthy post-menopausal women, we have seen that a good level of vitamin D is linked to good physical fitness and has an effect on body fat mass as well as muscle strength and balance,” wrote the authors of the report. They also recommend more foods be fortified with vitamin D. [Find out more about how vitamin D helps bones, hearts, moods and brain health here.]

Friday Quick Hits:

  • Should you be stressing about your stress level? The American Psychological Association just reported that 22 percent of Americans are ‘extremely stressed.’ As Washington Post reporter Dan Zak notes, “Stress can be a good thing – a motivator, a survival mechanism – until it reaches levels where the body can’t cope with haywire hormones, whipsawing enzymes and misfiring neurotransmitters. Then stress becomes a health problem.”
  • The FTC has ordered CVS Caremark to pay $5 million to reimburse customers who were misled about Medicare prescription drug prices by Rx America, one of the company’s Medicare plans. The FTC says RxAmerica posted deceptively low prices on Web sites-sometimes 10 times less than the actual prices charged.

Photo: Michael Krutzenbichler/Getty Images