Confirming Things I Already Knew
Jonah Lehrer shares with us research that should make most of us happy to hear.
Well, the anomaly has just gotten more anomalous: A new study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, followed 1,824 participants between the ages of 55 and 65. Once again, the researchers found that abstaining from alcohol increases the risk of dying, even when you exclude former alcoholics who have now quit. (The thinking is that ex-drinkers might distort the data, since they’ve already pickled their organs.) While 69 percent of the abstainers died during the 20-year time span of the study, only 41 percent of moderate drinkers passed away. (Moderate drinkers were also 23 percent less likely to die than light drinkers.) But here’s the really weird data point: Heavy drinkers also live longer than abstainers. (Only 61 percent of heavy drinkers died during the study.) In other words, consuming disturbingly large amounts of alcohol seems to be better than drinking none at all.
The takeaway lesson is that sex is both stressful and good for the brain. The “hedonic value” of the experience more than outweighs the temporary surge in corticosterone levels, at least in rats. Although sex appears to get less stressful the more we do it – we pump out fewer stress hormones during the act – such “chronic sex” still promotes all sorts of helpful neural habits, such as increased plasticity and new dendritic spines. (Of course, these findings probably only apply to pleasurable coitus. If you’re not enjoying the act, then don’t expect lots of neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus.) As I note in the article, these findings have led Gould to search for the additional molecules (let’s called them Molecules Y and Z) that modulate and mitigate the usually destructive chemistry of glucocorticoids, at least when we’re engaged in “naturally rewarding” activities. This data wouldn’t surprise Marvin Gaye, who sang so passionately about the benefits of “Sexual Healing”
Don’t worry both pieces are full of the requisite nuance. Of course the only lesson I’m going to take is get drunk and have sex… that’s the message, right?