Friday, 23 November 2018

Is alcohol bad for you? It depends on the drink and how you drink it

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shutterstock. Sergey Ryzhov/Shutterstock
Richard Hoffman, University of Hertfordshire
Recent headlines claim that a glass of wine or a pint of beer a day shortens your life. It’s enough to dampen any thoughts of a celebratory drink or two at Christmas. But those conclusions are based on a partial view of the alcohol debate.

No one disputes the fact that many people drink too much alcohol. The controversy centres on whether even low levels of consumption are safe. There is now good evidence that the risks versus benefits of alcohol are strongly influenced by the type of alcohol and the way it is drunk. Yet many studies have not included these factors when making recommendations about safe levels of alcohol consumption. So can you drink alcohol in a way that is safe or even beneficial?

The data seems to say “yes”. When drinking is spread out over the week, death from any cause is lower than when the same amount of alcohol is drunk on only one or two days of the week. The way alcohol is consumed matters because spikes in blood alcohol concentrations are far higher from binge drinking. Above a certain blood alcohol concentration, the body breaks down alcohol in ways that produce harmful molecules called free radicals that can damage the liver and are associated with an increased risk of cancer. But, unfortunately, many alcohol studies are based on the overall amount consumed in a week – they don’t distinguish between different drinking patterns.

Drinking with a meal also has a big influence on the health effects of alcohol because food slows the emptying of the stomach, which lowers the blood alcohol concentration. And when alcohol is consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, it seems to carry far less cancer risk than most other ways of consuming alcohol.

This can be explained, at least in part, by nutrients that are present at high levels in the Mediterranean diet, such as folates, which reduce the carcinogenic effects of alcohol. It is now widely accepted that the health effects of an individual food or nutrient can only be evaluated within the context of the overall diet. But that understanding is sometimes lost when drawing up guidelines for alcohol consumption.
The Mediterranean diet and moderate amounts of wine are a good match. Marian Weyo/Shutterstock

Drinking low amounts of wine is usually found to reduce the risk of an early death more than not drinking or drinking other forms of alcohol. A unit of alcohol in wine drunk slowly with a meal results in lower blood alcohol concentrations than a unit of alcohol taken as a single swig of spirit on an empty stomach. It is not yet understood whether the benefits of drinking wine – and especially red wine – are due to this more leisurely way of drinking or to wine’s many antioxidants (substances believed to protect cells from damage).

Wine as medicine

Some public health experts strongly believe that to prevent harm from misuse, alcohol should be declared a drug of abuse. But, when taken in moderation, alcohol reduces cardiovascular disease, and possibly dementia. So it may be more appropriate to view alcohol as if it were a pharmaceutical drug.
It would be rather odd to be prescribed a course of medicine without it being made clear that only a few tablets should be taken each day – not all of them on a Friday night, which would turn a beneficial drug into an extremely harmful one. Similar precautions also need to be employed to benefit from alcohol.

Most nutrients, from saturated fats to many vitamins, have safe upper limits, and exceeding those limits can be harmful. These limits reflect the body’s capacity to safely metabolise the nutrient. The dose makes the poison.

Of course, some people, such as pregnant women and people who produce high levels of the cancer-causing substance acetaldehyde when they metabolise alcohol, should avoid alcohol altogether. Binge drinking is also rightly condemned as harmful. But the current evidence suggests that for those who choose to drink, the benefits from moderate meal-time drinking (wine with a Mediterranean-style meal, preferably) outweigh the risks. Making a clear distinction between binge drinking and moderate meal-time drinking can help clear up the confusion and allow alcohol its appropriate place in a healthy lifestyle.The Conversation

Richard Hoffman, Lecturer in Nutritional Biochemistry, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday, 19 November 2018

My experience of Postgraduate study at the University of Hertfordshire

Dr Laura Abbott’s research has been discussed in parliament and appeared in national media; it is starting to help shape policy development to improve the experiences of pregnant women in prison. Here she writes about her experiences of Postgraduate study and how she is using her midwifery training and experience to improve the lives of others.

 Dr Laura Abbott with Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions.

My motivation to embark on doctorial research into pregnant women’s experiences in prison was driven by my curiosity and midwifery experiences of accessing a marginalised group of women; and whether my research could help them tell their story. Seen as a societal anomaly and invisible group, pregnant women in prison often have a background of trauma yet they have limited autonomy by nature of the setting in which they are held. Identifying a gap in the evidence, I chose to try and understand the pregnant woman’s experience within the English prison system.

As I conducted my research, I realised what huge scope there was to improve policy, care and outcomes for both mother and child, and this became an additional motivation.


Undertaking a doctorate is not easy and one of my mantras throughout the almost 6 years of juggling study, fulltime work and a young family was:

“We choose to go to the moon…and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. ― John F. Kennedy [Address at Rice University, September 12 1962]


I have been indelibly, personally, affected by the experiences of the women, and subsequently wish to campaign for better conditions. Participants would often tell me that they had ‘no voice’ and many women asked me to represent and share their experiences, so their voices could be heard: writing about and presenting my research has already highlighted some of the issues pregnant women in prison face, raising the voices of the women.


The University of Hertfordshire is a family – we support each other. My research supervisors, midwifery and CRIPPAC colleagues and friends across the school and wider university make undertaking something as challenging as a doctorate feel like it belongs to all of us. Undertaking a professional doctorate has meant that I have had the support of my peers, sharing our learning and collaborating and encouraging one another, especially when the going gets tough. Living the UH values through being collegiate and friendly means that our achievements are shared, and I am proud to belong to the UH community. I am lucky to be part of a midwifery team who support fantastic students – over the years as I have talked about my findings with students, their support and passion for my research has been inspiring.

Personal growth

My doctoral research has had an engrained impact on me on multiple levels. The closed institution of prison was a difficult world to inhabit. At times my personal resolve was tested due to my feeling haunted by the environment and the disturbing accounts from women. On a personal level, I have learnt to be more patient, to question deeper, to be more compassionate, to judge less and understand more. As a professional, I am learning that advocacy needs to be actionable rather than rhetorical, and that speaking out takes inordinate courage, yet is critical where women have no voice.

Working together

At the outset of my research journey I saw how vital services such as those delivered by the third sector were for the women. Developing relationships with campaign groups, charities and academics in other disciplines to my own and in other HEIs has been motivating, and these relationships have definitely strengthened my research. I was able to apply for some small funding awards which were a great motivator, knowing that others saw the importance of my work. The Iolanthe Midwifery Trust  and the Royal College of Midwives provided some generous funding which helped pay for travel and books.

A special relationship has been built up with the charity Birth Companions and I was proud to contribute to their Birth Charter for Pregnant Women in prison in England. Seeing the difference this small, deeply compassionate charity of volunteers makes for disadvantaged women in prison and also in the community spurs me on.


From the outset, I was ambitious that my research would positively influence the way pregnant women in prison are perceived and hoped it would make an impact on society. I have always believed that undertaking this kind of research needs to make a difference to those whom we are researching. Undertaking policy analysis as my Masters project gave me some grounding in how to influence policy and gave me the impetus to engage with networking at the early stages. It is through careful planning that my research is now having a wide reach from media outlets to the government. Of course this is not something I can do alone – my relationships with charitable organisations such as with Birth Companions have been hugely instrumental in this.

The potential impact for women and their babies is what has driven me and continues to do so. This was the primary reason for me to reach the end of my doctorate and ensure that through understanding women’s experiences we can work to ensure care provided is tailored to their needs.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Getting the most out of the LRCs

Michael Chapman, Graduate Information Technology Management for Business, University of Hertfordshire

During my studies at the University, 90% of my work was done in the Learning Resource Centres (LRC). I studied both computer science modules and business, meaning I would be in the LRCs on both College Lane and De Havilland on a daily basis. Why? That’s simple, whether I’m on my own or with friends and course mates, there’s a study space suitable for my needs and importantly, 24 hours a day and 360 days a year

Where you sit in the LRC can have a huge impact on the amount of work you get done, as some areas are designed for groups, whilst others are quiet areas. For example, College Lane top floor is a quiet zone, ideally suited for those who want to work on their own and don’t mind a low level of noise. If you are after silence, then both LRCs have silent study rooms and some individual study booths. My advice is don’t be tempted to grab the first seat you see, plan your visits in advance and explore each LRC properly to find a space that’s right for the work you want to do. Remember you can book Group Study Rooms but my advice is that because these are very popular, you need to book ahead. If you can’t find a suitable space, why not head over to the Oval or the Chapman Lounge on College Lane or the Mezzanine on De Havilland instead.

Here is a quick video of De Havilland LRC or, if you’d prefer, you can book a tour of either LRC. The Herts Mobile app has a wayfinding function showing the rooms and the locations of pcs that are free and available for use.

With 400,000 volumes and nearly 500,000 ebooks, the LRC was instrumental for me to achieve my grades during my final year. Whilst doing my dissertation, I would spend my daytime at the LRC reading printed books, then my evening at home reading ebooks so no matter if I could or could not get onto campus, I still had 24-hour access to resources that helped me get a first in my dissertation. Don’t forget you can reserve printed books online too and collect them when you arrive.

I nearly always had my laptop with me during university, but on the odd occasion that I forgot it, the PCs available throughout both LRCs were perfect. There’s also high-performance ‘specialist software’ pcs suited for complex computational work, and Macs on the ground floor of each LRC and on the quiet 2nd floor at College Lane. If you prefer, you can borrow a Chromebook using the laptop loan services located near the LRC entrances.

Food is key when planning a long study session so whenever you want to take a break from your studies or if you want to eat while you work, the newly renovated cafes are great places to you grab a coffee or enjoy a bite to eat without having to step outside. The vending machines also provide snacks, and microwaves are available for those wishing to bring their own food.

If you need help with your studies, you can attend drop ins for Academic English, Library Link-Up Study Skills and Maths Support (College Lane LRC only). These are open to all students, but definitely check StudyNet for times.

No matter what year you’re in, the LRC will have something to offer you. But remember to bring your student ID with you otherwise you won’t get in.

5 Tools That Helped My Studies

Max Cresswell, Internal Communications Co-ordinator, The University of Hertfordshire

Now that November is starting, exams and coursework deadlines are right around the corner… and you should certainly be worried, they come around quicker than you think. Luckily for you, I’ve come up with 5 tools that I found were a must need when doing my degree. 

1.     Microsoft Office

What do I need to say about Microsoft Office, it’s a must for every student. The most useful of all the tools but also the most obvious, as I don’t know any student who doesn’t use this, Word for writing papers, PowerPoint for creating presentations or Excel for data analysis, I don’t think I completed a piece of work without using a Microsoft Office program. To make life even easier, the University offer Microsoft Office for free to all University of Hertfordshire students! Just use your username and password when verifying your subscription and you’re ready. The University even provide computers and laptops available in the LRCs and computer labs, with Microsoft Office already installed. 


Perhaps one of the most useful tools I found. If you don’t already know, is an online learning platform, they have a big variety of courses to chose from, from business to technology to photography. They provide videos on every subject area to teach you information about the subject area. Videos can be long or short, the longest one I saw was 127 hours. In my study time, I found this tool extremely helpful, if I had a bit of free time I would often turn a video on and expand my knowledge of an area of my degree. The best bit is, the University provide this for you free of charge! Simply sign in, using your University email and password.

3.     Herts Mobile app

Certainly, as a fresher, the University app saved my bacon on numerous occasions, it provides you with all the information you need, I can’t recommend it enough. The most useful section of the app I found was the wayfinding bit. At the start of my studies, I found the campus really confusing and still do to this day, I once even went to the wrong campus for a lecture. Meaning this tool was and is a big help to me. The other app tools include, find a pc, bus times, notification, ask herts and service status. 

4.     Google scholar

Referencing still is the bane of my life, I hated it as much as you all hate it. I struggled with University referencing, since it was very different to what I was doing at sixth form, referencing there was plain and simple, just from a web page. University is a big step up from that, I had to start looking for more reliable sources, books and scholarly articles, it was a huge struggle. Fortunately, I was told about google scholar early in my course and it was a massive help to finding information and my referencing. If you don’t already know, google scholar is a google program that searches scholarly articles for the subject area that you type in, this helps find reliable sources and great information.  

5.     Ask Herts

Finally, we have Ask Herts. Pretty much anything you need to know, Ask Herts has the answer to. It is very quick and easy to use, you simply type something into the search bar and it will give you search results matching what you entered, then you chose which one you want the answer to, simple. Any University information you want, Ask Herts has the answer. I used this myself to ask about the parking situation at the University, it gave me results for: can I park on campus, residential parking, students parking at the university and many more. It was quick and gave me the answer that I was looking for. I cannot stress how helpful Ask Herts was to this specific query I had.

The Key to Group Work

April Wilson, Graduate MA Journalism and Media Communications, The University of Hertfordshire 

For anyone who resists giving over control of a project, the words ‘group work’ can automatically send a chill down your spine when announced in class. However, group work does not need to be scary and asking for help is not a sign of defeat. During my Masters degree at the University although I really admired all the work my team members brought to our project, I still tried to finish the project by myself because I find it a struggle to relinquish control. However, it was too much for one person and though asking for help was difficult; it was the best decision I could have made. After all, if I hadn’t my mark on the project (and theirs) could have suffered.
However, there are other common obstacles that can come up with group work so I wanted to give a few tips of things to look out for (based off my own and friends experiences):

Having specific roles is key

When working in a group, if you write down what part of the project everyone is responsible for from the start, it really does help. Although, meeting up to work on the project as much as possible is helpful, sometimes with different timetables this isn’t always possible. But if everyone knows what work they need to complete and when for (timelines are key!); it makes any potential arguments later on about what work needs doing a lot easier to navigate. Of course, you can have some flexibility in these roles within your team but I think having a set plan really does help to everyone work at the same pace.

Get everyone’s contact details

Before you even meet as a group for the first time make sure to grab at least everyone’s mobile number and email address, as there are key to scheduling team meetings. I know many people like setting up messenger or whatsapp groups, which can be really useful; just make sure you’re using a platform everyone is comfortable with! If not everyone in the team has Whatsapp, don’t start a group without them – it will instantly cause a rift in your group!

Set the deadline in advance

Speaking of making sure everyone works at a similar pace, I really recommend allowing everyone in the team time to reflect on a project before you hand it in.  When I worked in a team where we decided to do this it gave us the time to go through and check everything in the project. This meant on hand in/ presentation day we were primed and ready to go and not frantically trying to finish up! I also recommend this tactic with all assignments when possible, as it also really helps with proof reading if you have a few days off from an essay.

Talk to your supervisor if there is an issue

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to engage with someone, not everyone pulls their weight in a group project. If you have brought this up to your team member and you are still having issues, do talk to your lecturer about it. They can talk to their student themselves and make sure it reflects everyone’s mark within the group.

Most of all, I think it’s important to remember that group work is a chance to get to know people in your class better who you might not have spoken to as much and a chance to have lots of ideas feeding into a project. It can be tempting to be possessive of your ideas but it is important to be fair as well as honest. If the team has already taken most of your ideas on already, allow someone the opportunity to let their idea shine.

Remember group work is an opportunity to have fun collaborating with your class mates and shouldn’t cause you extra stress!