Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Quality of Research on Mental Health Effects of COVID-19: Low compliance with open science recommendations, which raise concerns about the validity, generalisability, and reproducibility of the findings

Nieto, Ines, Juan F Navas, and Carmelo Vazquez. 2020. “The Quality of Research on Mental Health Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Note of Caution After a Systematic Review.” PsyArXiv. July 14. doi:10.31234/osf.io/ndgkj

Background: SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has spurred scientific production in diverse fields of knowledge, including mental health. Yet, the quality of current research may be challenged by the urgent need to provide immediate results to understand and alleviate the consequences of the pandemic. This systematic review aims to examine compliance with basic methodological quality criteria and open science practices on the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: A systematic search was performed using PubMed and Scopus databases on the 13th of May. Empirical studies, published in peer-reviewed journals in English, between February and May 2020, were included. The dependent variable(s) required to be quantitative and related to mental health. Exclusion criteria included clinical pharmacological trials, and studies using psychophysiological or biological recordings. The study protocol was previously pre-registered in https://osf.io/bk3gw/.

Findings: Twenty-eight studies were identified. More than 75% met the requirements related to reporting key methodological and statistical information. However, 89.3% used convenience samples and 92.86% lacked of a priori power analysis. There was low compliance with open science recommendations, such as pre-registration of studies (0%) and availability of databases (3.57%), which raise concerns about the validity, generalisability, and reproducibility of the findings.

Interpretation: While the importance of offering rapid evidence-based responses to mitigate mental health problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is undeniable, it should not be done at the expense of sacrificing scientific rigor. The results of this study may stimulate researchers and funding agencies to try to orchestrate efforts and resources and follow standard codes of good science.

Long-term low-dose ethanol intake improves healthspan and resists high-fat diet-induced obesity in mice

Long-term low-dose ethanol intake improves healthspan and resists high-fat diet-induced obesity in mice. Yan Diao et al. Aging, July 8, 2020. https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.103401

Abstract: Numerous epidemiological studies have reported that moderate alcohol drinking has beneficial effects. However, few studies have focused on the beneficial effects of ethanol, the common component in alcoholic beverages. Here we fed the C57BL/6 mice with 3.5% v/v ethanol as drinking water substitute to investigate the effects of long-term low-dose ethanol intake in vivo. We evaluated the metabolic rate and mitochondrial function of the long-term low-dose ethanol-intake (LLE) mice, assessed the exercise ability of LLE mice, and fed the LLE mice with a high-fat diet to investigate the potential impact of ethanol on it. The LLE mice showed improved thermogenic activity, physical performance, and mitochondrial function, as well as resistance against the high-fat diet-induced obesity with elevated insulin sensitivity and subdued inflammation. Our results suggest that long-term low-dose ethanol intake can improve healthspan and resist high-fat diet-induced obesity in mice. It may provide new insight into understanding the protective effects of moderate alcohol drinking.

Previous studies on the protection of alcoholic beverages have been primarily focused on the polyphenols such as resveratrol, procyanidins and other substances like catechin and tannin [2931]. Ironically, the most important common component of all alcoholic beverages, alcohol or ethanol, has received much less attention. Humans have had a long history of ethanol intake. The ‘drunken monkey hypothesis’ proposes that natural selection favored those primates with an attraction to ethanol because it was associated with proximate benefits [3233]. Even in modern times, scientists still observed the proactive behavior of wild chimpanzees taking ethanol [34]. In this study, we use ethanol, the common substance in all kinds of alcoholic beverages, as a single variable to explore its effects in vivo. Our data showed that the long-term 3.5% ethanol substitution for drinking water had beneficial effects in mice, the daily performance of ethanol-fed mice was enhanced, the athletic ability and healthspan of ethanol-fed mice drastically improved. Furthermore, the ethanol-fed mice showed the resistance to high-fat diet. When supplemented with 3.5% ethanol, the HFD mice showed reduced multiple organ pathogenicity, increased insulin sensitivity, and decreased NF-kB activation and inflammatory cytokines. These changes caused by ethanol are astonishing and impressive.
It has been well accepted that acute and chronic excessive alcohol exposure is conducive to tissue injury and that alcohol abuse is usually accompanied by a series of organ damages, including liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease, and cognition disorder, etc. [3537]. However, one should be mindful that the injuries caused by the excessive use of alcohol are dose-dependent. In our study, the long term 3.5% ethanol-fed mice did not show the common negative effects of alcohol. At this dose, we did not observe any pathological structural changes in the liver, the heart, or the kidneys; neither did we detect any impairments of learning, memory, and cognition by the water maze. Previous epidemiology studies showed that moderate drinkers those who consumed less than 15.0 g of alcohol per day had better mean cognitive scores than nondrinkers in women [6]. On the other hand, a recent study also claimed that even moderate drinkers (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right-sided hippocampal atrophy and has no protective effect for light drinking (1-<7 units/week) [38]. However, the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on brain structure and cognition function need to be further explored.
One of the pathophysiological mechanisms induced by alcohol abuse has been identified as mitochondria dysfunction [39]. When the mitochondrial DNA damages induced by alcohol abuse are not adequately repaired, the mitochondrial function is impaired [40]. On the other hand, the mitochondrial volume was associated with high levels of physical activity [41]. The improved mitochondrial function of LLE mice may be due to their high level of daily physical activity and enhancement of athletic ability of LLE mice. In our experiments, we observed that the mitochondrial density in the liver and the skeletal muscles of the ethanol-fed group increased, and the morphology became stronger with more cristae, indicating improved mitochondrial function under the moderate ethanol feeding. AMPK induces mitochondrial biogenesis and has emerging roles in the regulation of both mitochondrial metabolism and dynamics [2122]. Phosphorylation activity of AMPK, necessary for mitochondrial biogenesis via SIRT1 and PGC1a [2324], was increased in the liver of the LLE mice. Considering the activation of AMPK by moderate ethanol intake, it seems reasonable to entertain the hypothesis that the rapid acetate metabolism following the ingestion of ethanol generates sufficient AMP to transiently activate AMPK, which in turn induces the synthesis of certain long-lived proteins that act to boost insulin sensitivity and possibly aid the efficiency of fat oxidation as well [42]. Furthermore, skeletal muscle contraction and exercise can stimulate the expression of AMPK [4344]. In our previous study, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors PPARα and PPARγ were found to be increased in the moderate alcohol-fed mice [17]. Both receptors are positively involved in mitochondrial biogenesis by promoting the transcription of upstream genes such as NRF-1, NRF-2, and Tfam [4546].
Obesity is commonly associated with insulin resistance, chronic systemic inflammation, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease [10]. The current consensus is that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular events, and can decrease the risks of type 2 diabetes [91214154748], partly owing to some of non-alcoholic components in the beverages. For instance, resveratrol in red wine has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and can improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity [4950]. However, the role of ethanol in the beneficial effects of moderate drinking is inadequately studied in comparison. As shown in our data, when supplemented with ethanol, HFD mice exhibited increased insulin sensitivity, lower level of inflammation, and decreased organ pathology, similar to the effects of resveratrol on HFD mice. These findings may explain why the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol drinking are not limited to red wine but also include most alcoholic beverages.
The health effects of alcohol intake are highly dependent on the amount of consumption, in addition to factors such as species (e.g., the alcohol metabolism rate of mice is faster than humans), gender, age, genotype (e.g., ALDH2 mutation), physical state [51]. A J-shaped dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and effects has been proposed for human recently [5253]. In another study, Wood AM et al. analyzed 599912 current drinkers and recorded a positive and curvilinear association of all-cause mortality with the level of alcohol consumption, with the minimum mortality risk around 100 g per week [54]. For the aggregate of cardiovascular disease outcomes, a J-shaped association with the level of alcohol consumption was observed in the same study, with 100 g per week being the most beneficial dose [54]. By contrast, another study used 694 data sources of individual and population-level alcohol consumption, along with 592 prospective and retrospective studies on the risk of alcohol use, found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and asserted the level of consumption that minimizes health loss is zero [55]. The view on the beneficial effects of moderate drinking is inconclusive from these discussions. Furthermore, “moderate drinking” should be more clearly defined, and the long-term effects further explored with more rigorousness and scrutiny.
In conclusion, our findings showed that not only could long-term low-dose ethanol intake improve the physical performance and the healthspan in mice but also boost the defense mechanism against the high-fat diet. Extended evaluations are needed to assess the long-term impacts of moderate alcohol intake on organs or systems such as the brain, the muscular, and the cardiovascular system. Findings from the current study substantiate opinions on the protective effects of moderate alcohol intake.

Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers

Kleinplatz, P. J., & Ménard, A. D. (2020). Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers. Routledge, 2020. https://www.amazon.com/Magnificent-Sex-Lessons-Extraordinary-Lovers/dp/0367181371

The seller's summary:
What makes sex magnificent? What are the qualities of extraordinary erotic intimacy and what are the elements that help to bring it about? Is great sex the stuff that people remember nostalgically from the "honeymoon" phase of their relationships, or can sex improve over time?

Magnificent Sex is based on the largest, in-depth interview study ever conducted with people who are having extraordinary sex. It gathers the nuggets for remarkable sex from the "experts", distilling them into an attainable blueprint for ordinary lovers who want to make erotic intimacy grow over the course of a lifetime. Looking at factors including individual and relational qualities, empathic communication and the myths and realities of magnificent sex, this book offers accessible and evidence-based guidance for lovers and therapists alike.

It is replete with frank and often humorous interviews with straight and LGBTQ individuals and couples, those who are "vanilla" and "kinky", monogamous and consensually non-monogamous and healthy and chronically ill. This illuminating book explores the implications of the findings to develop a model that effectively tackles the common problems of low desire and frequency. The "cure" for low desire is to create desirable sex!

Popular press:
The Erotic Brain SEX Sexual FOMO: The Sex We Think Others Are Having. Petra Zebroff. Psychology Today, Jul 23 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-erotic-brain/202007/sexual-fomo-the-sex-we-think-others-are-having

Denial of Gender Discrimination is Associated with Better Subjective Well‐Being among Women; these authors think that denial is just a coping mechanism & that it may perpetuate gender inequality

Denial of Gender Discrimination is Associated with Better Subjective Well‐Being among Women: A System Justification Account. Jaime L. Napier  Alexandra Suppes  Maria Laura Bettinsoli. European Journal of Social Psychology, July 13 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2702

Abstract: Despite the fact that women face socially and politically‐sanctioned disadvantages every day, a large percentage of women and men report that gender discrimination is no longer a problem. Across three studies, which together include over 20,000 participants from 23 countries, we test the hypothesis that denial (vs. acknowledgement) of gender discrimination is associated with higher subjective well‐being among women (Studies 1‐3), and this is because denying gender discrimination promotes the view that the system is fair (Study 1). We further show that this happens above and beyond personal experiences with sexism (Study 1) and that the association is stronger in countries where sexism is relatively high (vs. low; Study 3). We argue that denial of discrimination is an individual‐level coping mechanism and that, like other self‐group distancing strategies, it may perpetuate gender inequality.