Why Having a Pet (of Any Kind!) May Boost Your Mood and Keep Your Brain Healthy

cleveland pet bonding

Cleveland Clinic
@ClevelandClinic

Bonding with an animal can help fill a void created by isolation with social support and, from dogs in particular, with unconditional love: #NationalPuppyDay

Why Having a Pet (of Any Kind!) May Boost Your Mood and Keep Your Brain Healthy

Understanding how animals contribute to good health

Therapy animals have long been the trusted companions of people with disabilities. Now, animals of all kinds are proving their value to individuals with dementia as well as to those hoping to reduce their risk of brain disease.

Physiology helps explain why animals are such effective therapists for all of us, says Marwan Sabbagh, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: “Simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate and, possibly, in elevated mood.”

Man is by nature a social animal

Depression is common in individuals with dementia, a byproduct of the isolation and loneliness they often experience.  Likewise, caregivers can feel alone and overwhelmed by their responsibilities. In both cases, bonding with an animal can help fill this void with social support and, from dogs in particular, with unconditional love.

In addition, dogs foster human connections for their owners. Take Rover for a ramble, and strangers who would never dream of approaching you in other situations will strike up a conversation centered on the animal. Even a mere smile from a passerby is a connection that can brighten your day.

Get your six legs out there!

Walking the dog yields a second, equally important benefit: physical exercise, which is also key to a brain-healthy lifestyle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at least 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for good health and double that amount for greater health benefits. Brisk walking (at least 3 mph — that’s 20 minutes per mile) qualifies as moderate-intensity activity. The payoff extends beyond enhanced brain health to weight control, improved cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength, and reduced risk of chronic diseases and killers such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

So give the cat a cuddle, then grab the leash and whistle for the dog. Get moving with your faithful companion by your side. You’ve got nothing to lose — and the potential to add years of healthy life ahead.

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In the U.S., heavy drinking is defined as: More than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks in a single day. @ClevelandClinic

After a night of one too many cocktails, you wake up dehydrated with a stitch in your side. Is that pang your kidneys crying “uncle?” 

Drinking alcohol to excess is linked to several health problems, including liver disease and an increased risk of some cancers (not to mention risks from drunk driving or accidental injuries while intoxicated). 

But the relationship between alcohol and your kidneys is a bit more nuanced. Kidney specialist Shane A. Bobart, MD, FASN, breaks down this troublesome pairing.  

Alcohol’s effect on kidneys

Your kidneys have an important role to fill. They filter waste from your blood, regulate the balance of water and minerals in your body and produce hormones. 

When you drink heavily, your kidneys have to work harder to filter out the alcohol. And in rare cases, binge drinking — five or more drinks at a time — can cause a sudden drop in kidney function called acute kidney injury. This serious condition occurs when toxins from alcohol build up in your blood so fast your kidneys can’t maintain the proper fluid balance. Though it’s reversible with treatment, it can increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. 

Regular, heavy alcohol use can also be harmful to your kidneys over time. According to the National Kidney Foundation, regular heavy drinking can double the risk of chronic kidney disease. The risk is even higher in people who drink heavily and also smoke. 

Alcohol risks: A body out of balance

Heavy drinking also has an indirect effect on kidney health. “The body is a big domino set,” says Dr. Bobart. “If you have one part of your body that’s not in balance, it can cause problems in many other parts of the body.” 

Drinking heavily can increase the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, for example. Both of those conditions are the mostcommon causes of chronic kidney disease in the United States.

Chronic alcohol use is also a major cause of liver disease. When your liver isn’t functioning well, it can impair blood flow to your kidneys. “Liver disease can have significant impacts on the kidneys,” says Dr. Bobart.  

Kidney pain, kidney stones and kidney infections: an alcohol link?

What about the kidney pain some people claim to feel after a night of drinking? According to Dr. Bobart, there’s no research to suggest a link between alcohol and kidney pain. But alcohol acts as a diuretic and can leave you dehydrated.  

Similarly, there’s minimal evidence to suggest that alcohol increases the risk of kidney stones or kidney infections. “We do know that people who don’t drink enough fluids have a greater chance of developing kidney stones.” So, people who drink heavily and are often dehydrated may be at greater risk — though the science of alcohol’s role in kidney stones is still unclear, he adds. 

What is clear is that heavy drinking takes a toll on your organs, kidneys included. Many people drink more than they realize. In the U.S., heavy drinking is defined as: 

  • For women: More than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks in a single day. 
  • For men: More than 14 drinks per week, or more than four drinks in a single day. 

“I urge anyone who has any trouble with alcohol to seek medical help,” says Dr. Bobart. “Doing so is nothing to be ashamed of. We have a lot of avenues to help people, and there are resources out there to get people the help they need.” 

After a night of one too many cocktails, you wake up dehydrated with a stitch in your side. Is that pang your kidneys? @ClevelandClinic

After a night of one too many cocktails, you wake up dehydrated with a stitch in your side. Is that pang your kidneys crying “uncle?” 

Drinking alcohol to excess is linked to several health problems, including liver disease and an increased risk of some cancers (not to mention risks from drunk driving or accidental injuries while intoxicated). 

But the relationship between alcohol and your kidneys is a bit more nuanced. Kidney specialist Shane A. Bobart, MD, FASN, breaks down this troublesome pairing.  

Alcohol’s effect on kidneys

Your kidneys have an important role to fill. They filter waste from your blood, regulate the balance of water and minerals in your body and produce hormones. 

When you drink heavily, your kidneys have to work harder to filter out the alcohol. And in rare cases, binge drinking — five or more drinks at a time — can cause a sudden drop in kidney function called acute kidney injury. This serious condition occurs when toxins from alcohol build up in your blood so fast your kidneys can’t maintain the proper fluid balance. Though it’s reversible with treatment, it can increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. 

Regular, heavy alcohol use can also be harmful to your kidneys over time. According to the National Kidney Foundation, regular heavy drinking can double the risk of chronic kidney disease. The risk is even higher in people who drink heavily and also smoke. 

Alcohol risks: A body out of balance

Heavy drinking also has an indirect effect on kidney health. “The body is a big domino set,” says Dr. Bobart. “If you have one part of your body that’s not in balance, it can cause problems in many other parts of the body.” 

Drinking heavily can increase the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, for example. Both of those conditions are the mostcommon causes of chronic kidney disease in the United States.

Chronic alcohol use is also a major cause of liver disease. When your liver isn’t functioning well, it can impair blood flow to your kidneys. “Liver disease can have significant impacts on the kidneys,” says Dr. Bobart.  

Kidney pain, kidney stones and kidney infections: an alcohol link?

What about the kidney pain some people claim to feel after a night of drinking? According to Dr. Bobart, there’s no research to suggest a link between alcohol and kidney pain. But alcohol acts as a diuretic and can leave you dehydrated.  

Similarly, there’s minimal evidence to suggest that alcohol increases the risk of kidney stones or kidney infections. “We do know that people who don’t drink enough fluids have a greater chance of developing kidney stones.” So, people who drink heavily and are often dehydrated may be at greater risk — though the science of alcohol’s role in kidney stones is still unclear, he adds. 

What is clear is that heavy drinking takes a toll on your organs, kidneys included. Many people drink more than they realize. In the U.S., heavy drinking is defined as: 

  • For women: More than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks in a single day. 
  • For men: More than 14 drinks per week, or more than four drinks in a single day. 

“I urge anyone who has any trouble with alcohol to seek medical help,” says Dr. Bobart. “Doing so is nothing to be ashamed of. We have a lot of avenues to help people, and there are resources out there to get people the help they need.”