How to Recreate a Sloppy Ancient Greek Drinking Game

by Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   January 14, 2015 06:51am ET

A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims

 Former World Health Organisation expert reportedly believes alcohol is only harmful when you consume over 13 units in a day

The recommended daily allowance for alcohol consumption in Britain may well be around the size of a medium to large glass of wine depending on your gender, but a leading scientist in the field has claimed drinking just over a bottle a day would do no harm to your health.

Former World Health Organisation alcohol expert Dr Kari Poikolainen has analysed decades of research into the effects of alcohol on the human body, The Daily Mail reports.

His conclusion – drinking is only harmful when you consume more than 13 units a day – that’s four to five pints of beer or more than a bottle of wine – which typically contains around 10 units.

He also believes that drinking more than the current recommended daily intake may in fact be healthier than being a teetotaler.

“The weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining – however the moderate amounts can be higher than the guidelines say,” Dr Poikolainen reportedly told The Mail.

Responding to the comments, Julia Manning from think-tank 2020Health, told the newspaper: “This is an unhelpful contribution to the debate. It makes grand claims which we don’t see evidence for. Alcohol is a toxin, the risks outweigh the benefits.”

The best time for your coffee

Ever wonder what the best time is to drink your coffee? You probably know it is not a good idea to drink part of your daily dose of caffeine in the afternoon. Especially for those who have problems sleeping. But, do you ever drink your coffee and feel like it just didn’t work? I know I have that feeling sometimes. The explanation for this has to with a concept that I think is extremely interesting but rarely discussed: chronopharmacology.

Chronopharmacology can be defined as the study of the interaction of biological rhythms and drug action. One of the most important biological rhythms is your circadian clock. This endogenous 24 hour clock alters your physiology and behavior in variety of ways but it can also alter many properties of drugs including drug safety (pharmacovigilance), pharmacokineticsdrug efficacy, and perhaps even drug tolerance. But, what part of the brain produces this 24 hour cycle and what signals does it receive in order for it to do so properly? It has been known for a long time that light is a strong zeitgeber. A zeitgeber is a term used in chronobiology for describing an environmental stimulus that influences biological rhythms. In the case of mammals, light is by far the most powerful. Following the discovery of connections between the retina and hypothalamus (the retinohypothalamic tract), investigations were aimed at the hypothalamus as the putative master clock. Indeed, in some of the most elegant brain lesion experiments, Inouye and Kawamura (1979) provided some of the first evidence demonstrating that the hypothalamus acts as the master clock in controlling the circadian rhythm. By creating an “island” in the brain by methodically cutting the hypothalamus away from any surrounding tissue, the circadian clock was completely lost (Inouye and Kawamura, 1979).

What does that mean? Well, the output of the hypothalamus nucleus (the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN) that controls the circadian clock has a variety of functions. The SCN controls your sleep-wake cycle, feeding and energy consumption, sugar homeostasis, and in addition to a few other things it controls your hormones. And, with respect to your alertness, the SCN’s control of cortisol (often referred to as the “stress” hormone) production is extremely important.

Most readers here, especially the ones in science enjoy–and desperately need–their morning coffee. I’ve seen some striking posts (here and here – note the caffeine consumption map with the number of researchers map) on the internet lately showing the correlation between science and caffeine. Not surprisingly to me, wherever there are scientists, there is a lot of caffeine consumed. And, a scientist also happens to be #1 the profession with the greatest caffeine consumption. But, if you are drinking your morning coffee at 8 AM is that really the best time? The circadian rhythm of cortisol production would suggest not.

Drug tolerance is an important subject, especially in the case of caffeine since most of us overuse this drug. Therefore, if we are drinking caffeine at a time when your cortisol concentration in the blood is at its peak, you probably should not be drinking it. This is because cortisol production is strongly related to your level of alertness and it just so happens that cortisol peaks for your 24 hour rhythm between 8 and 9 AM on average (Debono et al., 2009). Therefore, you are drinking caffeine at a time when you are already approaching your maximal level of alertness naturally. One of the key principles of pharmacology is use a drug when it is needed (although I’m sure some scientists might argue that caffeine is always needed). Otherwise, we can develop tolerance to a drug administered at the same dose. In other words, the same cup of morning coffee will become less effective and this is probably why I need a shot of espresso in mine now. Although your cortisol levels peak between 8 and 9 AM, there are a few other times where–on average–blood levels peak again and are between noon to 1 PM, and between 5:30 to 6:30 PM. In the morning then, your coffee will probably be the most effective if you enjoy it between 9:30 AM and 11:30 AM, when your cortisol levels are dropping before the next spike. Originally, when I heard a lecture on this topic, the professor said that since light is the strongest zeitgeber he suggested driving into work without sunglasses on. This would allow for stronger signals to be sent along the retinohypothalamic tract to stimulate the SCN and increase your morning cortisol production at a faster rate. I still tend to drive with them on since I feel blinded by the sun in the morning. However, on mornings when it is partially cloudy out and I did not get a lot of sleep, I drive with them off because this will help me feel more alert than if I was shielding what little sunlight was available. I thought this an important post for anyone but especially with the upcoming Society for Neuroscience annual conference in San Diego. Now us conference attendees should know just when to enjoy their coffee to stay alert for all of the new neuroscience!

Debono M, Ghobadi C, Rostami-Hodjegan A, Huatan H, Campbell MJ, Newell-Price J, Darzy K, Merke DP, Arlt W, & Ross RJ (2009). Modified-release hydrocortisone to provide circadian cortisol profiles. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 94 (5), 1548-54 PMID: 19223520

Inouye, S.T., and Kawamura, H. (1979). Persistence of circadian rhythmicity in a mammalian hypothalamic “island” containing the suprachiasmatic nucleus Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America DOI: 10.1073/pnas.76.11.5962

Here’s when you should be drinking your coffee, according to science

Image: Shaiith /

If you’re not timing your coffee breaks with your cortisol dips, you’re doing it wrong.

It probably doesn’t surprise you when I say that caffeine is the most widely consumed psycho-active substance on the planet. One of the most popular vehicles for caffeine consumption – coffee – is so popular, worldwide production is now over 7 million metric tonnes. If averaged out, that equates to 1.3 kg of coffee per person per year. So it’s safe to say we like the stuff.

Why? It’s not just because it tastes good and suppresses our appetites. It’s also because at a time when, as a society, we have way more things to get done than we have hours in the day, it wakes us up and keeps us going.

But not all coffee breaks are created equal. Research into the dips and peaks of hormone production in our bodies suggests that we need to be strategic about when we consume caffeine, in order to maximise that buzz and keep productive

According to Steven Miller at the NeuroscienceDC blog, this is because a) caffeine is a drug, and b) drugs have an affect on our internal chemistry. Which means to use a drug strategically, you need to know the rhythms of your body chemistry and sync your consumption up with that. There’s an entire scientific discipline that examines how drugs interact with our biological rhythms, he says, called chronopharmacology

One of the most important biological rhythms for a good deal of species on the planet is our internal circadian clock. It’s controlled by a tiny region in the brain’s hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and serves a number of different functions. “The SCN controls your sleep-wake cycle, feeding and energy consumption, sugar homeostasis, and in addition to a few other things it controls your hormones. And, with respect to your alertness, the SCN’s control of cortisol (often referred to as the “stress” hormone) production is extremely important,” says Miller.

This means if you’re producing too much cortisol, you’re not doing too good, but having moderate levels of the hormone helps keep you alert. And, says Miller, healthy levels of cortisol naturally peak between the hours of 8 am and 9 am. So that’s a good time to drink caffeine right? That would be super-convenient because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past, I don’t know, decade.

Turns out that consuming caffeine at the same time as your cortisol levels are naturally peaking is pretty much a waste of time. As Miller explains at NeuroscienceDC:

“One of the key principles of pharmacology is [to] use a drug when it is needed (although I’m sure some scientists might argue that caffeine is always needed). Otherwise, we can develop tolerance to a drug administered at the same dose. In other words, the same cup of morning coffee will become less effective and this is probably why I need a shot of espresso in mine now. 

Although your cortisol levels peak between 8 and 9 am, there are a few other times where – on average – blood levels peak again and are between noon to 1 pm, and between 5:30 to 6:30 pm. In the morning then, your coffee will probably be the most effective if you enjoy it between 9:30 am and 11:30 am, when your cortisol levels are dropping before the next spike.”

Sources: Neuroscience DCFast Company

This indoor farm is 100 times more productive than outdoor fields

Image: GE Reports

In Japan, the world’s largest indoor farm produces 10,000 heads of lettuce each day with 99 percent less water than outdoor fields. All hail the farm of the future.


This incredible indoor “food factory” in Japan is claiming that it can produce 100 times more heads of lettuce per day than an outdoor counterpart of the same area, and also produces 80 percent less food waste.

The entire thing is stored inside a building measuring around 2,500 square metres (25,000 square feet), and now versions of the set-up are being built in Hong Kong – with future construction planned in Russia, mainland China and Mongolia.

If that’s not impressive enough, the farm, which is the largest in the world and housed in Japan’s Miyagi prefecture – the site of the 2011 earthquake – also uses 99 percent less water than outdoor fields, according to Gloria Dickie from National Geographic.

The Mirai Group, the company behind the development, chose Miyagi for the site of their farm following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as there were food shortages in the region and concern over the safety of growing crops in the soil north of Fukushima. The building they chose for the project was an old, abandoned Sony factory, but the farm has now given it new life, as well as providing a local and sustainable supply of fresh food.

The entire thing is powered by 17,500 LED lights, specially designed for the project by GE Japan, which run at a wavelength that increases photosynthesis and cell division in the lettuce crops. And the scientists have also shortened the day and night length, as well as carefully controlled the humidity and temperature of the factory, in order to speed up the growth of the plants an unheard of two and a half times.

The incredible water savings come from the fact that, in outdoor farms, a lot of water is lost as it seeps through the soil and evaporates into the atmosphere. But the enclosed factory allows the water to be collected and recycled from the environment. And the lettuce crop itself is also more efficient – the plants don’t have a core, which greatly reduces food waste.

Now Mirai is looking into expanding its vision.

“I believe that, at least technically, we can produce almost any kind of plant in a factory,” plant physiologist and CEO of Mirai, Shigeharu Shimamura, told Gloria Dickie from National Geographic back in July 2014.

“But what makes most economic sense is to produce fast-growing vegetables that can be sent to the market quickly. That means leaf vegetables for us now. In the future, though, we would like to expand to a wider variety of produce,” he added.

Their ultimate goal is to build more of the indoor farms around the world – particularly in regions where pollution, drought, flooding or climate stand in the way of food production – and use the water savings to help fuel complementary outdoor projects.

“Using this method, if we can build plant factories all over the world, we can support the food production to feed the entire world’s population. This is what we are really aiming for,” Shimamura told Dickie.

At the moment, half of the planting and harvesting process is regulated by manual workers, while half is done by robots – but in the future the company plans to automate the whole thing to make it even more efficient.

Although some people will undoubtedly dislike the idea of our vegetables essentially becoming industrialised, with up to 900 million people around the world currently suffering from starvation, it’s an exciting and much-needed breakthrough that paves the way for the farms of the future.

Watch the GE Japan video below to find out more about the development of the farm.

Source: National GeographicWeb Urbanist

How to make tea correctly (according to science): milk first

Whether you put milk in your cup before or after the hot water is a constant argument among British people. Science may say milk first, but many would strongly disagree

Classic cup of tea on saucer with biscuit
 The most important discovery in the history of mankind. Fire is a close second, as you need it to boil water. Photograph: Alamy

Tea is better than coffee. Let’s just get that out of the way before we start. ManyMost ALL British people think this. Even those who say the exact opposite agree really, they’re just trying to be provocative and confrontational due to consuming too much caffeine. Yes, it may look like pretty much every other building you come across these days is a Starbucks, but tea is still more popular. Tea doesn’t need a global empire shoving it in people’s faces. Not after the last one, anyway.

The above paragraph is obviously exaggerated for comic effect (but only slightly), but it can’t be underestimated how important tea is to many people in Britain (and beyond of course). And because it’s so important, how it’s made becomes a serious issue. How long you leave the tea to brew, whether to put sugar in, what type of tea to use, and perhaps the biggest cause of disputes: if you put milk in your tea (which you should) do you put it in the cup before or after the boiling water?

Many arguments have been had about this. If anything is going to kick off another civil war in the UK, it is probably going to be this.

What most people don’t know is that, over 11 years ago, scientists settled this debate. Supposedly.

To test the recipe for the perfect cup of tea put forward in 1946 by George Orwell himself, Dr Stapley of Loughborough University established that putting the milk in after the boiling water is incorrect, as it causes the milk to heat unevenly (as opposed to pouring the water on top of it). This uneven heating of the milk causes the proteins in it to denature, meaning they lose their structure and “clump”, affecting the taste and contributing to that skin you get on the top. So when someone says they can tell if you put the milk in first or second in the tea you’ve made for them just by tasting it, turns out they probably can.

So that settles it then. Milk before water in tea. End of discussion. Science has spoken!

Except it hasn’t. As is always the case when you get science involved, it’s not that simple. For instance, if the tea bag is in the milk before the water, this will cool the water too quickly, affecting the brewing. So if you make the tea in a pot, fine. If you don’t, then that’s a whole other issue

As an aside, having been to America and sampling the weak tea made there, it must be stressed that the teabag should either be in a pot or the mug itself; it is not sufficient just for it to be in the same room.

Also, Stapley in his study said the denatured milk resulted in a less pleasant taste. But that’s a subjective opinion, not a measurable fact. Taste is incredibly subjective, to the point where even professionals like wine tasters can’t demonstrate any consistency under scientific scrutiny. So who’s to say this is any different? Why are denatured proteins automatically less delicious than intact ones? A fried mushroom is typically more enjoyable than a raw one, why should tea be any different?

[DISCLAIMER: The previous sentence refers to processes that cause edible proteins to denature. Please don’t try frying your tea; that makes no sense at all and will probably be awful.]

Other scientific pieces have weighed in on the correct way to make a cup of tea. Some are likely just PR guff, others are wonderfully rigorous. But, quite tellingly, they often differ significantly in their findings, because making tea has a lot more variables than many would think, given that it’s such a common behaviour.

And that’s another point: it’s not just the physical and chemical properties of the tea itself that influence our perception of it, but the procedure of making the tea can have an important role.

Wine tasting was previously mentioned, and how studies show the supposed experts are actually very inconsistent. But this isn’t to say they’re consciously making things up when they describe the wines they taste; they likely genuinely believe they can taste such subtle differences. But it’s the external factors (the appearance, the pouring, the consistency, the environment) that are very influential in determining the perception of it.

From the more pretentious end of the scale to the exact opposite, heroin addicts often develop needle fixation, whereby the very act of injecting causes a high-like response, as the act is directly linked to the effects of the drug. It can be so potent that those on methadone treatment (methadone being an oral substitute for heroin) sometimes spit out their dose in order to inject it and achieve a desirable high.

This isn’t to suggest that tea is as potent as wine or heroin (definitely not in the case of the latter), but it does emphasise how our preference for something is strongly influenced by the delivery, not just the biochemical effects it has.

People often drink tea at specific times or in specific contexts (eg the office tea break) and we quickly grow to expect these, especially if we’re the ones making it and develop our own pattern of doing so, based on our preferences. When someone deviates from this, it can explain the seemingly excessive reaction it provokes.

So, what’s the scientifically “correct” way to make tea? Well, if by correct you mean “method that makes it taste best”, then that’s actually something that incorporates a fantastic number of variables in order to produce a highly subjective result. So, scientifically speaking, the correct way to make tea is “however you like it best”.

Not that this will stop anyone from arguing about it, of course. Just read the inevitable comments.

Dean Burnett sat down with a cup of tea to write a different article but completely forgot what it was going to be about, so wrote about the first thing he saw. His lack of imagination is apparent on Twitter, @garwboy

George Orwell- In Defence of English Cooking

We have heard a good deal of talk in recent years about the desirability of attracting foreign tourists to this country. It is well known that England’s two worst faults, from a foreign visitor’s point of view, are the gloom of our Sundays and the difficulty of buying a drink.

Both of these are due of fanatical minorities who will need a lot of quelling, including extensive legislation. But there is one point on which public opinion could bring about a rapid change for the better: I mean cooking.

It is commonly said, even by the English themselves, that English cooking is the worst in the world. It is supposed to be not merely incompetent, but also imitative, and I even read quite recently, in a book by a French writer, the remark: ‘The best English cooking is, of course, simply French cooking.’

Now that is simply not true, as anyone who has lived long abroad will know, there is a whole host of delicacies which it is quite impossible to obtain outside the English-speaking countries. No doubt the list could be added to, but here are some of the things that I myself have sought for in foreign countries and failed to find.

First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake (such as you used to get at Buzzard’s before the war), short-bread and saffron buns. Also innumerable kinds of biscuit, which exist, of course, elsewhere, but are generally admitted to be better and crisper in England.

Then there are the various ways of cooking potatoes that are peculiar to our own country. Where else do you see potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them? Or the delicious potato cakes that you get in the north of England? And it is far better to cook new potatoes in the English way — that is, boiled with mint and then served with a little melted butter or margarine — than to fry them as is done in most countries.

Then there are the various sauces peculiar to England. For instance, bread sauce, horse-radish sauce, mint sauce and apple sauce; not to mention redcurrant jelly, which is excellent with mutton as well as with hare, and various kinds of sweet pickle, which we seem to have in greater profusion than most countries.

What else? Outside these islands I have never seen a haggis, except one that came out of a tin, nor Dublin prawns, nor Oxford marmalade, nor several other kinds of jam (marrow jam and bramble jelly, for instance), nor sausages of quite the same kind as ours.

Then there are the English cheeses. There are not many of them but I fancy Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind. English apples are also outstandingly good, particularly the Cox’s Orange Pippin.

And finally, I would like to put in a word for English bread. All the bread is good, from the enormous Jewish loaves flavoured with caraway seeds to the Russian rye bread which is the colour of black treacle. Still, if there is anything quite as good as the soft part of the crust from an English cottage loaf (how soon shall we be seeing cottage loaves again?) I do not know of it.

No doubt some of the things I have named above could be obtained in continental Europe, just as it is possible in London to obtain vodka or bird’s nest soup. But they are all native to our shores, and over huge areas they are literally unheard of.

South of, say, Brussels, I do not imagine that you would succeed in getting hold of a suet pudding. In French there is not even a word that exactly translates ‘suet’. The French, also, never use mint in cookery and do not use black currants except as a basis of a drink.

It will be seen that we have no cause to be ashamed of our cookery, so far as originality goes or so far as the ingredients go. And yet it must be admitted that there is a serious snag from the foreign visitor’s point of view. This is, that you practically don’t find good English cooking outside a private house. If you want, say, a good, rich slice of Yorkshire pudding you are more likely to get it in the poorest English home than in a restaurant, which is where the visitor necessarily eats most of his meals.

It is a fact that restaurants which are distinctively English and which also sell good food are very hard to find. Pubs, as a rule, sell no food at all, other than potato crisps and tasteless sandwiches. The expensive restaurants and hotels almost all imitate French cookery and write their menus in French, while if you want a good cheap meal you gravitate naturally towards a Greek, Italian or Chinese restaurant. We are not likely to succeed in attracting tourists while England is thought of as a country of bad food and unintelligible by-laws. At present one cannot do much about it, but sooner or later rationing will come to an end, and then will be the moment for our national cookery to revive. It is not a law of nature that every restaurant in England should be either foreign or bad, and the first step towards an improvement will be a less long-suffering attitude in the British public itself.



George Orwell: ‘In Defence of English Cooking’
First published: Evening Standard. — GB, London. — December 15, 1945.

— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.