Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we examine the unhealthy influence of the alcohol industry on medical research, the dark side of video-game addiction, and how exercise reduces inflammation in those that are obese.

Is the alcohol industry swaying health research?

Many of us have convinced ourselves that moderate drinking is healthy, raising a glass to red wine’s antioxidants or heart-healthy effects. But a recent action by the National Institutes of Health illustrates how health research is being tainted or shaped by industry, particularly the booze business.

On Friday, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins shut down a massive study on alcohol’s health effects after finding that its lead researcher, Kenneth J. Mukamal, was in close contact with beer and liquor executives while designing the study.

In a 165-page report, Mukamal held long conference calls with companies, including Diageo, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Danish beer giant Carlsberg to allay their concerns and take suggestions, assuring them that the trial was not large enough or long enough to show an increase in cancer, only that “moderate” drinking was safe. Much of the study’s $100 million tab was eventually picked up by five large beer and liquor companies, which planned to use it for marketing purposes.

The findings from this study were supposed to counter a 2014 World Health Organization proclamation that no level of alcohol consumption is safe because alcohol is a carcinogen and raises the risk of cancer. Even one drink a day is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The study’s initial acronym CHEERS, short for Cardiovascular Health Effects of Ethanol Research Study, should have been the tip-off of a pro-booze bias, with one staffer within the NIH referring to it as a prompt for a “new drinking game.” Seltzer anyone?

That “Overwatch” habit might be more serious than you thought

If you’ve ever called your teen a video-game addict, you might be on to something.

This week, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” as a new mental health condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, also referred to as the ICD.

Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which proposed the new diagnosis, said the classification was to alert more mental health professionals to the existence of this condition and boost the possibility that people can get treatment for it, as the ICD is often used by doctors and insurers to guide treatment and coverage. He compares the disorder to a gambling problem because while no psychoactive substances are involved, the addiction is real.

The three characteristics of gaming disorder:

  1. Gaming takes precedence over other activities to the extent that other pursuits are pushed to the periphery.
  2. Those affected have impaired control of this behavior, even when negative consequences occur.
  3. The condition causes significant distress and impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning, including disturbed sleep, diet problems and a dearth of physical activity.

Still, Poznyak says, the number of people truly affected by this condition is relatively small, and its inclusion in the ICD was met with opposition from many health professionals who say that for many, it is a coping mechanism rather than its own disorder. Any diagnosis, they point out, should be made by a health professional—not mom.

Overweight? Exercise could change your blood for the better

New first-of-its-kind research published in the Journal of Physiology shows that exercise can reduce inflammation in obese people by changing the characteristics of their blood.

Many of the health problems that are linked to obesity are a result of chronic inflammation, which leads to damage of healthy tissue and malfunctioning organs. The blood cells responsible for causing this inflammation are formed by stem cells within the body.

The study examined blood samples of obese individuals before and after a six-week exercise program, which consisted of one hour of bicycling or treadmill sessions three times a week. Researchers found that exercise reduced the number of blood-forming stem cells associated with the type that causes inflammation.

Additional research is planned on how these blood cells affect muscle and fat storage.

Photo credit: Nicolas Gras, Unsplash