Brain Health

Are You Drinking Too Much During the Pandemic?

red wine being poured into a glassTell me if this sounds familiar. When the pandemic first began, you enjoyed an occasional glass of wine to ease the tension of long days spent at home. As the lockdown wore on, that infrequent glass of wine, or two, slowly turned into a daily occurrence to fend off the stress of social distancing. So, are you drinking too much during the pandemic?

tray of cocktails with striped straws

Women Are Drinking More Alcohol 

If the strain of COVID-19 is showing up in your drinking habits, you’re not alone. Research shows that since the start of the outbreak, American adults, especially women, are drinking more, and on more days. The study also uncovered a sharp, 41% increase in women’s binge-drinking, defined as downing at least four drinks within two hours.

Is the coronavirus pandemic to blame for women drinking more? One study found that women’s drinking was directly related to their concerns about COVID-19. However, the recent rise in women’s alcohol intake is part of an overall increase in drinking in recent years.

Let’s face it: 2020 has been particularly difficult. Many women are carrying a heavy load as they juggle working at home (or losing their job), schooling their children, and managing the household. Women may also be experiencing  financial stress and caring for elderly parents.

It’s easy to understand the attraction to alcohol as a way to forget about what’s going on in your house and in the world, if only temporarily.  Plus, it’s socially-acceptable to unwind with wine, beer, or cocktails. Yet, drinking as an emotional crutch tends to backfire. Once the initial buzz wears off, excessive alcohol intake is just part of an endless loop that makes fear, anxiety, and depression worse, not better.

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults say their mental health is worse than it was at this time last year.

How much alcohol is OK to drink for women? 

Mod­erate drinking, which is less than or equal to one drink a day for women (no more than two drinks a day for men), is OK for most adults. Some people should avoid alcohol, including pregnant women.

Heavy drinking is eight drinks or more weekly for women and 15 drinks or more for men. To determine how much alcohol you’re drinking, you need to know the definition of a “drink.”

In the U.S., a drink is defined as one of the following. Each of the these drink choices contains about the same amount of alcohol. Certain microbrews and some wines may have a higher alcohol content.

• 12 ounces of regular beer

• 5 ounces of wine

• 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits, such as vodka, gin, or rum

If you’re in doubt about your alcohol intake, measure it. To help you stay within the moderation guidelines, don’t refill your glass until it’s empty.


Drinking from large glasses can lead to excess alcohol intake.


Why women should drink less alcohol during the coronavirus pandemic 

Drinking alcohol will not protect you against COVID-19 and it may make matters worse if you do get sick. Drinking affects your health in more ways than one, however. Here’s how alcohol can influence your wellbeing during the pandemic, and at other times.

• According to the World Health Organization, alcohol consumption, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus.

•Heavy drinking increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.

Alcohol is a depressant, and it can intensify the effects of medications that also slow down the central nervous system, such as antidepressants, pain killers, and sleep aids.  Over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements can become less effective, or more potent, when mixed with alcohol.

• Wine, beer, and cocktails offer little more than extra calories and may contribute to “quarantine” weight gain. Alcohol reduces your resolve to limit portions of fatty, high-calorie foods, such as ice cream, chips, and cookies, which may cause you to consume more calories than you need. Being overweight is a potential risk factor for infection by coronavirus.

• Alcohol interferes with deep, restful sleep, which is already a challenge for many women, especially those over 40. Sleep deprivation saps your energy, makes pandemic stress seem harder to deal with, and reduces resistance to infection.

• Drinking may result in memory loss and shrinkage of the brain.

Excessive drinking results in impaired judgement that could jeopardize decisions about your health during the pandemic.

How to drink less alcohol 

There’s no immediate end in sight to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but it won’t go on forever.  Instead of drowning your sorrows, find coping mechanisms that involve less or no alcohol.

If you drink, keep your drinking to a minimum and avoid getting intoxicated. You may want to consider giving up alcohol completely. Quitting could be the path to feeling calm and peaceful, according to a new study.

Get regular physical activity, which strengthens the immune system while relieving stress. Walk, run or bike in nature whenever possible, even in the winter.  When you can’t get outside, search the internet for free exercise videos.

man and woman walking hand in hand down snowy path

Find some “me” time every day.  Take just 10 minutes here and there to be present.  Slow, deep breathing can calm the mind and soothe frazzled nerves. Here’s a free guided breathing exercise to try.

Ask for help from family and friends. Seek social support that’s safe and doesn’t focus on alcohol, like a Zoom mocktail party with friends on a regular basis.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble in your relationships or in how you think and feel.  Or contact the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP to get information about treatment programs in your local community and to speak with someone about alcohol problems.

Glass with red wine









Foods That Improve Memory and Concentration

Diet affects brain function. Find out how foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 improve memory and concentration throughout life.

How choline builds and maintains the brain

Choline is part of every cell.

Choline is an essential nutrient. That means you need choline from food or supplements to meet your needs.

Studies show that choline is key to brain development during pregnancy and early life.

Choline is linked to a lower risk for neural tube defects. The neural tube develops into a baby’s brain, spine, and spinal cord.

Choline also plays a role in the development of the hippocampus, the brain’s “memory center.” As a result, choline may help preserve and improve memory.  The hippocampus is one of the only areas in the brain that produces cells into late adulthood.

Some studies show a link between better memory in people with higher choline intakes.  And, people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of a compound that allows the brain to use choline.

How to include enough choline

More than 90% of U.S. adults don’t consume enough choline, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Here’s how much choline you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Female: 425 milligrams; Males: 550 milligrams

Pregnant: 450 milligrams

Breastfeeding: 550 milligrams

Choline is found in a variety of foods. However, animal foods, such as eggs, meat, and seafood, have the most choline. For example, one large egg or 3/4 cup roasted soybeans supply about 30% of your daily choline intake.

You may not get enough choline if you limit or avoid animal foods. As a result, you may need a choline supplement.

The amount of choline in foods can be found in the Nutrient Facts panel. The panel is on food and supplement labels. The Daily Value for choline is 550 milligrams.

Most multivitamins and prenatal pills do not contain much choline.  You may need an additional choline pill, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. However, limit choline intake to 3,500 milligrams daily.

 Coffee, walnuts, and berries for brain health

Iodine and brain health

The thyroid gland contains nearly all the iodine in the body. It stores iodine to make hormones for brain development and growth, and to produce energy.

How iodine builds and maintains the brain

During pregnancy, the body needs thyroid hormones to make myelin.  Myelin helps nerve and brains cells to communicate.

Iodine helps baby’s brain develop properly. Severe iodine deficiency in mom’s diet can lead to mental retardation and Attention Deficit Disorder.

How to include enough iodine in your diet

Iodine needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, women in their childbearing years may not get enough iodine.

The Nutrient Facts panel doesn’t list iodine, and that makes it hard to know how much iodine is in packaged foods.

Here’s how much iodine you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Males and females: 150 micrograms/day

Pregnancy: 220 micrograms

Breastfeeding: 290 micrograms

All salt is not created equal

People who avoid iodized table salt, seafood, and dairy may be at risk for an iodine deficiency.

Dairy milk has iodine. However, many people avoid dairy foods. As a result, they may be missing out on iodine.

Seafood and sea vegetables supply iodine. Experts suggest eating at least eight ounces of seafood weekly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood weekly.

Salt with added iodine, called iodized salt, is a reliable iodine source. However, the same isn’t true of salty packaged foods.

Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods, but food companies almost always use plain salt.

Experts suggests pregnant and breastfeeding women take 150 micrograms of potassium iodine as a supplement daily. That advice also applies to women who may become pregnant. 

The body absorbs potassium iodide well. Taking more iodine is not better for you.

How vitamin B12 helps the brain

During pregnancy, the brain needs vitamin B12 for proper development and growth.  The brain also needs vitamin B12 throughout life. 

Vitamin B12 is part of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells. The myelin sheath allows cells to “talk” with each other.

Vitamin B12 helps produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells communicate.

Foods with vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. It is not present naturally in plant foods. However, fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and other grains and nutritional yeast, have vitamin B12.

It’s possible to be low in vitamin B12 if you avoid animal products. You can get enough vitamin B12 with fortified foods and dietary supplements.

Exclusively breastfed infants of women who eat no animal products may develop vitamin B12 deficiency within months of birth. Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can result in severe nerve damage.

How much vitamin B12 you need

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than you think.

Up to 15% of the general population doesn’t get enough vitamin B12. Poor memory, confusion, depression, and dementia are symptoms of too little vitamin B12 in the diet.

You need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily after age 14.

During pregnancy, the daily suggested intake is 2.6 micrograms, and it’s 2.8 micrograms daily during breastfeeding.

Why you may need more vitamin B12

People with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and those who have had weight loss surgery may absorb less vitamin B12.

Common medications affect how your body processes vitamin B12, too.

Ask you doctor about the medication you take. You may need extra vitamin B12.

Age also affects vitamin B12. The body absorbs less natural vitamin B12 after age 50. As a result, experts say people over age 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 in the synthetic form.

Synthetic vitamin B12 is added to foods such as breakfast cereal and other grains and dietary supplements. Added vitamin B12 does not require stomach acid for digestion. As a result, the body can use it easily.

In conclusion: How to have a better brain

Eating right helps the body and brain develop properly and supports it throughout life. Include foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 in a balanced diet. If you don’t, consider taking a daily multivitamin and a choline supplement to meet your needs.

Why Walking Is Good Exercise

person walking in sneakers and jeans

The other day, I heard an exercise instructor say that walking isn’t really exercise, and it upset me. There’s no reason to disregard any form of physical activity as not “difficult enough.” Walking is good exercise.

Is walking good for weight loss or is going to the gym better?

Working out doesn’t have to be extreme to be beneficial, and, as it turns out, putting one foot in front of the other is harder work than experts previously thought.

This study shows that walking burns more calories than researchers had presumed for decades. I’ll remember that when I’m walking my dog, Lucy (pictured below)!cockapoo's face

Any movement burns calories, including working out at the gym. So which is better for your waistline? That’s hard to say.

Adding more walking to your routine may help with weight loss and prevent weight gain. In addition to burning calories, which may mean easier weight control, walking has other, surprising health benefits.

Read all about how exercise alters gut health for the better

Why walking is good for mental health

Brains shrink with age, which is not good news for memory, judgement, and coordination.  Research from the UCLA Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh links any type of aerobic exercise, including walking, to a better brain structure and reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

I don’t know if my brain is expanding when I walk the dog every day, but I do know that it gets me out of the house and away from my desk, and that the rhythmic motion of walking reduces my stress and clears my head.

Lucy is small, but she needs to exercise every day. That’s why I log at least 10 miles a week of walking outdoors and in all kinds of weather. I try to remember that walking in nature changes your brain for the better, especially when Lucy and I are walking in the rain or when it’s snowing!

man and woman walking in winter

How to return to exercise or start a walking routine

I love to walk, and there’s no doubt that it’s good exercise. If you haven’t been working out lately, walking is a step in the right direction.

Start slowly and work up to at least 30 minutes on five days a week. Walking briskly offers more health benefits.

Walkers who have been doing the same loop for a while may want to take walking up a notch to make it more challenging.  Round out your walking routine with at least two sessions of resistance training, such as a weights or bands class, each week.

Now, where are my sneakers?

woman with backpack walking on a road in fall pinterest graphic

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