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Less than 2 hours of walking per week may ‘considerably prolong life’

19/10/2017

We all know that regular exercise should be a part of our weekly routine, but finding the time and motivation is often difficult. But what if just a little bit of walking had the ability to considerably prolong your life? Would you make time then? A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that even as little as two hours of walking a week, compared with no physical activity at all, correlated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality. In other words, even levels of walking that do not meet government-issued guidelines still provide significant benefits and lower the risk of premature death by a considerable amount. Moreover, the study also found that going beyond government exercise guidelines was linked with a 20% decrease in mortality risk. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr. Alpa V. Patel, Ph.D., strategic director of the Cancer Prevention Study-3 for the American Cancer Society (ACS), said: “Walking," she continued, "has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn't require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.” So, the next time you have a short journey to make and providing the weather is good and you’re feeling up to it, why not walk?

Super-sized chocolate bars to be banned in UK hospitals

17/10/2017

We recently reported that childhood obesity rates are 10 times higher today than they were in 1975. This worrying trend is only set to continue unless more is done to tackle obesity in children. So-called “sugar taxes” on soft drinks in various countries around the world and France’s decision to ban unlimited fizzy drinks in restaurants, fast food-chains, schools and holiday camps, are definitely steps in the right direction. Now, hospitals in England have laid out plans to ban the sale of any sweets or chocolate that contain more than 250 calories. Going forward, super-sized chocolate bars will become a thing of the past in hospital vending machines and canteens. In addition, pre-packed sandwiches with more than 450 calories and/or 5g of saturated fat per 100g will also be banned. Hospitals will be given a cash boost to help them facilitate the changes. The decision to ban fattening and sugary food products in hospitals is actually win-win for the National Health Service (NHS). These foods are major contributors to obesity and many other conditions/diseases, such as preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer – all of which put enormous strain on the health service. Public Health England says hospitals have an "important role" in tackling obesity and not just dealing with the consequences.

Childhood obesity rates now 10 times higher than they were in 1975

12/10/2017

A new report by Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), reveals that obesity in children is 10 times higher today than it was in 1975. Even more startling is the report’s prediction that within five years, more children will be obese than underweight. For the research, lead author Prof. Majid Ezzati, of the School of Public Health at ICL, and his team of over 1,000 researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) of almost 130 million people living in 200 countries, including 31.5 million individuals between 5 and 19 years old – making this study the largest of its kind. They found that total childhood obesity rates have risen globally by more than 10-fold in the past forty years. More specifically, in 1975, there were 5 million obese girls. In 2016, this number had risen to 50 million. A similar trend was found for boys, with 6 million obese in 1975 compared to 74 million in 2016. The researchers say that if the trend continues, there will be more obese children in the world than underweight ones by the end of 2020. Commenting on the findings, Prof. Ezzati said: “The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and also malnourished. We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods.” The findings of the study were published in The Lancet.

Low calcium levels may raise heart attack risk

10/10/2017

Calcium is well-known for its role in promoting healthy bones, but a new study suggests it could also be beneficial for heart health too. Cardiac arrest, or heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 350,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs) occur in America every year. Furthermore, almost 90% of people who experience SCA die as a result. The primary cause of SCA is coronary heart disease. However, around 50% of women and 70% of men who die from SCA have no medical history of heart disease, suggesting other significant risk factors are at play. For the study, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, CA, analysed data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study. They found that the risk of SCA was increased by 2.3-fold for people who had the lowest blood calcium levels (under 8.95 milligrams per deciliter). More importantly, this risk remained after confounding factors, including demographics, cardiovascular risk factors and medication use, were accounted for. Dr. Hon-Chi Lee, of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, said: “This is the first report to show that low serum calcium levels measured close in time to the index event are independently associated with an increased risk of SCA in the general population”.

Over-65s not doing enough strength training, finds study

05/10/2017

It’s a natural reaction to want to lend a helping hand when you see an older individual carrying something that looks heavy. And while it’s absolutely the right gesture and something many of us will continue do without thinking, research suggests that strength exercises are actually highly beneficial for older people. According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), nearly a quarter of over-65s don’t do any strength exercises. As a result, they are putting themselves at risk of falls and other forms of ill health. Simple, yet important tasks, like gardening, vacuuming and carrying the shopping can help older people live healthier, longer lives. Current NHS guidelines advise that people should do at least two strengthening sessions per week. However, a survey carried out on behalf of the CSP found that nearly a quarter of over-65s are doing none whatsoever. Almost one in five people said they didn't know how to strength train, while a similar number said they simply didn't want to. Prof Karen Middleton, chief executive of the CSP, says that not everyone has to become weaker and frailer as they get older. "Research shows getting stronger brings a whole host of health benefits so it is incredibly important that people don't overlook strengthening when being active." So the next time you offer to carry an older person’s shopping and they insist that they’d rather do it themselves, remember, you could be helping them live a longer and healthier life.

Even one hour of exercise per week could prevent depression

03/10/2017

Depression affects around 6.7% of US adults every year. On a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are currently living with the disorder. When it comes to treatment, medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of these approaches is usually used. But new research adds weight to the argument for regular exercise as a depression treatment. Australia-based non-profit group Black Dog Institute conducted an analysis of data collected from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over an 11-year period. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the team, led by Prof. Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, found that not only does a little exercise bring substantial benefits, but a lack of exercise actually contributes to depression. Individuals who didn’t undertake any physical activity were found to be 44% more likely to develop depression than those who did just 1 or 2 hours per week. As a result, the authors concluded that approximately 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individual did at least 1 hour of exercise per week. "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said Prof. Harvey.

New test can instantly detect heart attacks

28/09/2017

A sudden chest pain often leads to people fearing the worst, which is why many, quite rightly, seek medical help right away. But two-thirds of the time, patients with chest pains will not actually have experienced a heart attack. Nevertheless, these patients still need to be assessed and given the all-clear before being sent home. Then there are the patients who have actually had a heart attack. While a heart trace, called an ECG, can quickly identify major heart attacks, it is not that good at highlighting smaller ones, which can also be life-threatening. At present, patients with a clear ECG and chest pain are then given a heart-attack blood test, called troponin. However, this needs to be repeated three hours later to check for signs of heart muscle damage. Now, a new instant blood test could change the way suspected heart attack patients are treated. The cMyC test can rule out or confirm a heart attack in less than 20 minutes, meaning well patients can be sent home quicker, while heart attack victims can get the treatment they need faster. Troponin and cMyC blood tests were carried out on nearly 2,000 people admitted to hospitals in Switzerland, Italy and Spain with acute chest pain. The cMyC test was found to be better at giving patients the all-clear within the first three hours of presenting with chest pain. According a team from King's College London, the cMyC test could be rolled out on the NHS within five years. Dr Tom Kaier, one of the lead researchers at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said: "Our research shows that the new test has the potential to reassure many thousands more patients with a single test, improving their experience and freeing up valuable hospital beds in A&E departments and wards across the country." [Related reading: What is Coronary Angioplasty?]

Major HIV breakthrough: New antibody attacks 99% of strains

26/09/2017

Scientists have developed a new antibody that can kill 99% of HIV strains and even prevent infections in primates. It works by attacking three different parts of the virus, making it difficult for HIV to resist its effects. The antibody, which has been engineered by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, has been hailed as an “exciting breakthrough” by the International Aids Society. The human body struggles to fight HIV because of the virus’s incredible ability to mutate and change. As a result, the immune system finds itself combatting multiple strains all at once – a task that is insurmountable. Human trials will now commence in 2018 to see whether the antibody can prevent and treat infections. Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, said the new antibody is “more potent” and has “greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that's been discovered”. Until now, the best naturally occurring antibodies target 90% of HIV strains. At 99%, the new antibody is significantly more powerful. The findings of the study were published in the journal Science.

What is Coronary Angioplasty?

21/09/2017

Coronary arteries are the main blood vessels that supply the heart. Sometimes, these arteries can become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to the flow of blood to the heart becoming restricted. A coronary angioplasty is a surgical procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. You may be surprised to learn that it is carried out using local anaesthetic and did you know that it involves a tiny balloon? The surgeon makes a tiny incision in your groin, arm or wrist and inserts a catheter. This is then guided to your affected coronary artery using an X-ray video. A tiny balloon is then inserted into the artery via the catheter. The balloon is then inflated to squash any fatty deposits against the wall of the artery widening it once more. This allows blood to flow freely again after the balloon is removed. A stent is sometimes also added and enters the artery at the same time as the balloon. It remains in place after the balloon has been deflated and removed to ensure the artery remains in the best possible shape to allow blood to flow freely going forward. The entire procedure only takes around 30 minutes to two hours and most patients are allowed to go home after just one or two days.

Could a simple skin patch effectively eliminate ‘love handles’?

19/09/2017

Whether you call them love handles or muffin tops, the areas of built up fat that can appear above your waistline are something that many people would love to be able to easily get rid of. A new patch developed by scientists in the US could provide the easy fix people have been looking for. The novel patch delivers fat-browning drugs directly into the areas of fat and converts "bad" white fat into "good" brown fat - not only reducing the amount of excess fat, but also lowering fasting blood glucose levels. Having too much white fat - particularly around the abdominal region - can raise the risk of several health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. So far, the patches have only been trialled on mice, but it’s hoped that they can be developed for human use in the future. Study co-leader Li Qiang, Ph.D., from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said the patches could offer a great alternative to existing drugs that promote fat browning. Their non-invasive nature can reduce side effects. "The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly," says study co-leader Zhen Gu, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Child organ donor saves record eight people after death

14/09/2017

A girl from the UK, who unfortunately died from a brain aneurism, has helped a record eight people, including five other children, through organ donation. Jemima Layzell, from the southwest of England, who died in 2012, donated her heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, small bowel and liver. Her parents said Jemima was a very clever, compassionate and creative girl, who would have been “very proud of her legacy”. According to NHS Blood and Transplant, no other donor has ever helped so many people. Normally, an organ donation results in, on average, 2.6 transplants – a fact that highlights just how unusual Jemima’s situation is. Her heart, small bowel and pancreas were transplanted into three different people. Two people received her kidneys, while her liver was split and transplanted into a further two people. Both of her lungs were transplanted into another patient. NHS Blood and Transplant said that too many people die unnecessarily while awaiting a transplant because too many parents do not agree to donate their children’s organs. Last year, 457 people died waiting for a transplant, including 14 children. At present, there are 6,414 people on the transplant waiting list in the UK, including 176 children. Jemima’s story will hopefully encourage more people to become organ donors and help save lives after they die.

Revolutionary pen detects cancer in just 10 seconds

12/09/2017

When it comes to diagnosing cancer, speed has always been of the essence. But now a new handheld device, which looks very much like a pen, can identify cancerous tissue in just 10 seconds. Its inventors say that tests have shown it to be accurate 96% of the time. According to scientists at the University of Texas, the device could make surgery to remove tumours faster, safer and more precise. Furthermore, they say the pen would significantly reduce the chances of leaving any cancerous tissue behind, avoiding the “heartbreak” that such a situation brings. The internal chemistry of cancer cells is very different to that of healthy tissue. That’s because their unique metabolism makes them strive to grow and spread furiously, and that’s what the MasSpec Pen, as it’s known, uses to identify them. When touched onto a piece of tissue, the pen releases a tiny droplet of water. Chemicals inside the living cells pass into the water droplet, which is then sucked back up inside the pen for analysis. Within seconds, doctors know whether they are looking at healthy or cancerous tissue. It’s thought the pen will greatly help surgeons find the border between healthy and cancerous tissue, allowing them to remove all of the cancer. Dr James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the researchers, said: "Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that's something we want to do. "This technology does all three." 

Zika virus could be used to treat aggressive brain cancers, say US scientists

07/09/2017

The harmful Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and causes devastating brain damage in babies, could be used to treat aggressive brain cancer in adults, according to US scientists. Up until now, Zika has only been seen as a major global health threat, but the new research could see it become a remedy. The scientists say the virus can be used to selectively infect and destroy hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains. In mice studies, the Zika virus was seen to successfully shrink aggressive tumours, yet left other brain cells unscathed. While human trials are still quite a way off, laboratory tests show that the virus works on human cells, and experts believe the Zika virus holds a huge amount of potential. They say it could be injected into a human brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours. Some brain cancers are fast growing and spread quickly through the brain. This makes it very difficult to see where the tumour finishes and healthy tissue begins. As an extra precaution, the team from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have already begun modifying the Zika virus to make it less potent than the regular strain. Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: "It looks like there's a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours."

One in 10 men aged 50 have the heart of a 60-year-old

05/09/2017

A study by Public Health England looking at the heart health of the nation has found that thousands of men face early death at the hands of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, according to the analysis of 1.2 million people, one in 10 British men has a heart age that’s a decade older than their actual age. Heart disease is the main cause of death among men and the second among women. Public Health England says that 7,400 people will die from heart disease or stroke this month alone. However, most of these deaths are preventable and Public Health England says that just a few small lifestyle changes can have a positive impact. One of the suggestions made was for over 50s to get their blood pressure regularly checked as high blood pressure can be an early sign of a potentially life-threatening condition. Public Health England’s head of cardiovascular disease, Jamie Waterall, urged people not to only start considering their heart health later in life. "Addressing our risk of heart disease and stroke should not be left until we are older", he said. How to improve your heart health: Give up smoking Get active Manage your weight Eat more fibre Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day Cut down on saturated fat Cut down on salt Drink less alcohol

New test could speed up meningitis diagnoses, save lives

31/08/2017

A new meningitis test that can provide results within 60 minutes, expediting diagnoses and saving more lives, has started to be used by an A&E department in a hospital in Northern Ireland. Researchers say that the new test will allow doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to treat patients fast and accurately, rather than "just in case". A positive meningitis diagnosis can take up to two days, yet infections can overwhelm a person’s body and kill in just hours, which is why fast treatment is so crucial. Furthermore, symptoms may not be obvious until it is too late. Doctors currently have to rely on clinical judging to decide whether antibiotics should be urgently administered and tend to err on the side caution, meaning some patients receive drugs that they don’t necessarily need. The rapid LAMP (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples will be trialled over a two-year period at the hospital and used to help doctors see if their clinical hunches are correct.  Antibiotics will also still be used during the pilot as an extra precaution when doctors determine they are needed. Researcher Dr Tom Waterfield from Queen's University, Belfast, said the LAMP test could also help spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net. "With the best will in the world you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial. "The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis".

Heart attacks and strokes: new drug could be better than statins

29/08/2017

A trial involving an anti-inflammatory drug could represent the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of heart attacks and strokes since statins were introduced to help lower cholesterol, its authors say. The study of 10,000 patients found that anti-inflammatory drug canakinumab reduced the risk of a patient who had already had a heart attack having another one in the future. The four-year trial saw patients receive high doses of statins as well as either canakinumab or a placebo. Those who received canakinumab were found to be 15% less likely to suffer from a cardiovascular event than their counterparts who received the placebo. Furthermore, cancer deaths were also halved in patients who received canakinumab. The results, which have been referred to as “exciting” by the British Heart Foundation, are thought to be down to the effect of the anti-inflammatory drug on unchecked inflammation within the heart’s arteries. Presenting their results at the European Society of Cardiology meeting, held in Barcelona, Spain, the research team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, led by the study's lead author Dr Paul Ridker, said the study represented "a milestone in a long journey". "For the first time, we've been able to definitively show that lowering inflammation independent of cholesterol reduces cardiovascular risk. "This has far-reaching implications." It is thought the trial could now lead to new types of treatment for heart attacks and strokes being developed.

Breakthrough peanut allergy treatment still effective after four years

25/08/2017

When it comes to food allergies, peanut allergies are one of the most deadly. But hope may be on the horizon for people who are allergic to peanuts after a new study has revealed how a particular oral treatment can be effective for up to four years after it is administered. For the study, children were given a probiotic with a peanut protein every day for 18 months. One month later, the children were tested to see whether they could tolerate peanuts without displaying any allergic symptoms – 80% could. Then, after four years, the children were tested again. This time 70% were still able to eat peanuts without showing any allergic symptoms. Lead researcher Prof Mimi Tang, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, said: "The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanuts like children who don't have peanut allergy and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanuts”. She added that this is the first time a peanut allergy treatment has proved effective for this long. The Australian research team now wants to determine whether the treatment has improved the children’s quality of life. More than 250 million people worldwide are thought to have peanut allergies – a figure that has more than trebled in the last 20 years alone.

'Fat but fit' still face higher risk of heart disease

17/08/2017

People who are overweight or obese, despite appearing medically healthy, are still at increased risk of heart disease, experts warn. The notion that people can be ‘fat but fit’ is being challenged by research published in the European Heart Journal. According to the researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, who studied health data relating to more than half a million people in 10 European countries, weight is still a heart disease risk factor even if someone has normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The study found that people who appeared healthy, with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings, were still 28% more likely to develop heart disease than individuals with health bodyweights. Even more at risk were people who were overweight or obese and had high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Dr Ioanna Tzoulaki, from Imperial's School of Public Health, said: "I think there is no longer this concept of healthy obese. "If anything, our study shows that people with excess weight who might be classed as 'healthy' haven't yet developed an unhealthy metabolic profile. "That comes later in the timeline, then they have an event, such as a heart attack”. So the advice if you want to maintain a healthy heart is to watch your weight, even if you think you are fit.

Study reveals that anger and hatred can make people feel happier

15/08/2017

An international study has found that people are happier when they are able to feel the emotions they desire, even if those emotions are anger and hatred. The study suggests that happiness is much "more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain". For the research, participants were asked what emotions they desired and felt. Their answers were then compared to how they rated their overall happiness or life satisfaction. It was discovered that while people generally wanted to experience pleasant emotions, they felt happiest when they were able to feel the emotions they desired. The bottom line, according to lead researcher Dr Maya Tamir, from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is "If you feel emotions you want to feel, even if they're unpleasant, then you're better off". Dr Tamir went on to say that "Someone who feels no anger when reading about child abuse might think they should be angrier about the plight of abused children, so want to feel more anger than they actually do in that moment”. Interestingly, the study also found that 11% of people wanted to feel less positive emotions, such as love and empathy, while 10% of people wanted to feel more negative emotions, such as hatred and anger.

Loneliness, social isolation bigger killers than obesity, finds study

10/08/2017

While it’s commonly accepted that obesity is a major public health concern in the United States, new research has uncovered two bigger threats to people’s lives: loneliness and social isolation. Presenting the findings of their two meta-analyses of studies at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., study co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University (BYU), and colleagues revealed that loneliness and social isolation have the potential to increase people’s risk of premature death by as much as 50%. In fact, the researchers found that the risk of premature death associated with loneliness and social isolation was equal to or greater than for obesity. While people often think loneliness and social isolation are the same, there are actually notable differences between them. Social isolation, for example, is defined as a lack of contact with other people. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the feeling that a person is emotionally disconnected from other people. The bottom line being that a person can be in regular contact with other people, but still feel lonely. A 2016 Harris Poll of US adults found that 72% have felt lonely at some point in their lives, while just under a third said they feel lonely at least once a week. Prof. Holt-Lunstad said more needs to be done at a community level to tackle the loneliness epidemic being faced. 

Children's online time should be regulated by parents like ‘junk food’ consumption

08/08/2017

Parents should be proactive in preventing their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays. That’s the plea from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, as she launches a campaign to help parents regulate their children’s internet use. With web usage at an all-time high among children, Longfield has criticised the methods used by social media giants to draw children into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. She said: "It's something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays; that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food. "None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time. "For those same reasons we shouldn't want our children to do the same with their online time." According to industry watchdog Ofcom, last year, the internet overtook television as the most popular media pastime for children in the UK, with kids aged five to 15 spending 15 hours a week online. Longfield added that when smartphones, games and social media make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we haven’t got the balance right.

Speed boosts pancreatic cancer surgery success rates

03/08/2017

A pilot scheme in the UK has shown that speeding up access to surgery for pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed early enough boosted success rates by a third. The team from the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust that conducted the trial reduced the time to surgery for 32 patients from two months to just over two weeks. All but one had their tumours successfully removed. However, it will be two years before anyone knows if operating sooner extends lives. Nevertheless, the team said it had saved the NHS £3,200 per patient and could help hundreds of patients all over the UK. Very little progress has been made in treating pancreatic cancer since the early 1970s. Around 9,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with it each year, of which just 7% will live beyond five years.  At present, only 8% of pancreatic cancer patients in the UK undergo surgery to remove their tumours. That’s because the majority are diagnosed too late and surgery is no longer an option. Keith Roberts, who led the team from Birmingham, said: “We have shown that it is possible to create a much faster path to surgery for pancreatic cancer patients within the NHS, which could have a significant impact on survival. “We carried out surgery earlier, avoided unpleasant and costly pre-surgery treatment, and yet there was no significant increase in complications post-surgery.”

Antibiotics: do you really need to take the complete course?

01/08/2017

An opinion piece that was recently published in the BMJ has triggered a debate about whether the guidelines for antibiotics should be updated. Advice from doctors has always been that people should continue taking a course of antibiotics until they are all gone, even if they started feeling better a few days in. But now, writing in the BMJ, a team of researchers from across England argues there is not enough evidence to support the idea that stopping a course of antibiotics early encourages antibiotic resistance. In fact, they say that using antibiotics for longer than necessary could increase the chances of antibiotic resistance occurring. Prof Martin Llewelyn, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, together with colleagues, says that more research is needed so that antibiotic prescriptions can be given that are tailored to the infection and the person. However, many experts have come out urging people not to change their attitudes towards antibiotics in light of one study. Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, leader of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that just because a person’s symptoms had improved it did not necessarily mean the infection had been completely eradicated. "It's important that patients have clear messages, and the mantra to always take the full course of antibiotics is well known - changing this will simply confuse people."

Sperm counts in western men have dropped by more than 50% in last 40 years

27/07/2017

Between 1973 and 2011, sperm counts among western men have more than halved, according to research, but the reason for the decline remains unclear. Researchers analysing nearly 200 studies involving men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand found that sperm concentration has decreased 52.4% in less than 40 years, while total sperm count has decreased by 59.3% over the same period. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “The results are quite shocking.” While there are now various infertility treatments that can help to address such a decline, little has been done to identify the root cause. Low sperm counts, for example, could be associated with lifestyle choices and indicate poorer health among men in general. “This is a classic under the radar huge public health problem that is really neglected,” said Levine. The most worrying part of all, he said, is that if the trend continues as it has done, humans would eventually become extinct. Interestingly, no significant decline was witnessed in South America, Asia and Africa, but then far fewer studies have been conducted in these places, so there is much less data to analyse. The findings of the study were published on July 25 in the journal Human Reproduction Update.

Increasing number of millenials undergoing cosmetic surgery to create dimples

25/07/2017

While cosmetic surgery is nothing new, a new craze among millenials is definitely garnering some attention at the moment. It’s called dimpleplasty and it basically involves having facial surgery to create dimples. Okay, so most people would agree that dimples are attractive, but isn’t having them artificially created going one step too far? The procedure, which costs as little as $800 and takes just half an hour to perform, has grown in popularity over the past few years. According to Wright Jones, a plastic surgeon from Atlanta, the main reason dimpleplasty is so popular is because of the “little downtime, enhancement of facial aesthetics, and lack of need for general anaesthesia”. Surgeons create a defect in the patient’s cheek muscle which is then reattached to the under surface of the skin. When the patient smiles, they miraculously have dimples. But the surgery isn’t permanent. It last for one to two months – is that long enough to justify the swelling and soreness that accompanies it?

Just 60 seconds of jogging per day could boost women's bone health

20/07/2017

While many people think that getting fit involves hours spent in the gym each week, a new study suggests just one minute of jogging each day is enough to boost women’s bone health. Researchers found women who performed “high-intensity, weight-bearing activity” 60 to 120 seconds a day had 4% better bone health than those who didn’t. Furthermore, those that did slightly more exercise benefitted exponentially. For example, women who did more than two minutes had 6% better bone health. The researchers said that a slow jog for post-menopausal women and a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women was enough to provide health boosts. Publishing their findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Leicester, both in the United Kingdom, said there was a clear link between exercise and bone health. For their study, the researchers used data obtained from wrist monitors worn by more than 2,500 women for a week. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bone to become weak and brittle. While bone tissue is constantly broken down and replaced in healthy people, new bone production does not keep pace with the removal of old bone in individuals with osteoporosis. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that there are around 54 million people living with osteoporosis and low bone mass in the United States alone.

Generosity makes you happier, study confirms

18/07/2017

We all know that acts of generosity towards other people make you feel good and provide a happiness boost, but while previous scientific studies have confirmed a link between selflessness and happiness, none have analysed the mechanical link between the two, until now. For their study, Professor Phillipe Tobler and Professor Ernst Fehr, both from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich (UZH) in Switzerland, split participants into two groups – one that was made up of people who promised to spend money on others (the experimental group) and one that promised to spend money on themselves (the control group). At the end of the four-week study, the researchers found that those individuals in the experimental group reported increased happiness compared to their counterparts in the control group. Going one step further, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyse the brain mechanisms that link generous behaviour with increased happiness. They saw that generous decisions activated an area of the brain linked to happiness and the reward cycle. Talking about the findings of the study, Professor Tobler said: “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice.”

New type of scan could predict when people will have a heart attack

14/07/2017

A new type of heart scan that analyses the fat and inflammation around the heart’s arteries could more accurately predict who will have a heart attack. The new way of scanning, developed by a team at the University of Oxford, identifies potential ticking time bomb arteries, allowing high-risk patients to receive intensive treatment and reduce their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Most of us know inflammation as the red, swollen, sore feeling you experience after cutting your skin. However, the same occurs in all the tissues in the body, including inside the heart. Inflammation on the inside of blood vessels is linked to the build-up of unstable plaques, which can break apart and block a coronary artery, starving the heart of oxygen – resulting in a heart attack. "The holy grail in cardiology is the ability to pick up inflammation in coronary arteries, it's been a challenge for the past 50 years," said Prof Charalambos Antoniades, one of the Oxford researchers. Prof Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Discovering which plaques are likely to rupture, so people can be treated before such a devastating event strikes, is a major objective of current research. "If the technique lives up to its promise in larger trials in patients, it could lead to more effective treatment to avoid a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke."

Always connected individuals more stressed than their counterparts

10/07/2017

While it’s impossible to deny that technology has transformed the way in which we live our lives, not all of the effects are always positive. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey 2017, a staggering proportion (99%) of adults own electronic devices. In fact, the survey shows that around 86% of adults own a computer; 74% own a smartphone; and 55% own a tablet. As you would expect with figures such as these, the percentage of adults using social media has also significantly increased. In 2005, 7% of adults were active on social media. By 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 65% (90% for adults aged between 18 and 29). However, the survey also found that 43% of American adults had become what is known as “constant checkers” – people who constantly (almost obsessively) check their emails, text and social media accounts The problem is that stress levels for constant checkers are considerably higher than they are for “normal” people. For example, 42% of constant checkers worry about how social media affects their physical and mental health. In comparison, only 27% of non-constant checkers have the same worry. Are you a constant checker? If you are, perhaps it’s time you put your smartphone down and underwent a digital detox.

Extreme gardening shown to help in fight against malaria

06/07/2017

A team of researchers have successfully culled mosquito populations in nine West African villages by cutting off their food supply, reducing the risk of malaria in those areas. By removing flowers from a common plant that has become a horticultural bully – the Prosopis juliflora shrub – the researchers were able to kill off lots of the older, adult, female, biting insects that transmit malaria. Experts believe that by reducing the amount of nectar (energy) available to these older “granny” mosquitoes, the cycle of malaria transmission can be stopped. That’s because it’s only these Anopheles mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite in their saliva and transmit it to people when they bite and draw blood. An infected person can then pass the parasite on to other younger, biting, female mosquitoes, increasing the spread of the parasites further. In the villages where the flowers of the Prosopis juliflora shrub were removed, mosquito numbers were seen to drop by almost 60%. While there is no direct proof, the researchers believe the mosquitoes died of starvation. Reporting the team’s findings in the journal Malaria Research, Prof Jo Lines, a malaria control expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the novel approach held amazing potential, alongside other malaria prevention strategies.

Tick saliva stops inflammation of the heart

04/07/2017

Researchers from Oxford University have discovered a potential “goldmine” for new drugs in one of the unlikeliest places – ticks. They found that proteins contained in the parasites’ saliva are excellent at stopping inflammation of the heart, which can cause myocarditis and lead to heart failure. Ticks are remarkably good at biting and feeding without being detected. This allows them to stay attached to animals and humans for up to 10 days while they feed on their blood. The reason tick bites don’t cause any pain or inflammation is because proteins in their saliva neutralise chemicals called chemokines in the host. It’s now thought that ticks could be used to help treat other conditions, such as stroke and arthritis. Prof Shoumo Bhattacharya, BHF professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford, who led the research, said: "Myocarditis is a devastating disease, for which there are currently very few treatments. "With this latest research, we hope to be able to take inspiration from the tick's anti-inflammatory strategy and design a life-saving therapy for this dangerous heart condition.” Traditionally, tick saliva was obtained by milking the tiny parasites using tubes. Nowadays, though, tick saliva proteins can be grown in yeast from synthetic genes, which allows large amounts to be produced. It should be noted that all of the current research has only been carried out in a laboratory, so it will be several years before any trials are conducted with humans.

Medicine information leaflets ‘must be clearer’, say experts

27/06/2017

Have you ever opened a medicine packet and been overwhelmed by how much the information leaflet focuses on the possible side effects instead of the benefits? If you have, you’re in good company because the Academy of Medical Sciences thinks the same. In a new report, it calls for medicine information leaflets to be rewritten to give a more balanced view. A survey conducted by the academy discovered that the public was confused about the information on medicines and did not trust scientific research. Scientists have said clear communication with patients must be a priority going forward. The report says the list of side-effects contained in Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) is often very long and off-putting. As a result, people are made unduly anxious about taking medicines and this could be the reason why more than 50% of people actually stop taking medicine once they have started. There is also no indication of how likely the side-effects are to occur, with PILs often just labelling them as “serious” or “possible”. The actual benefits of the medicine are much less understated, often taking up far less space than the potential harms. Prof Sir John Tooke, chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences report, says PILs “aren't written from a consumer's perspective”. For example, instead of explaining how the medicine will reduce symptoms, many PILs describe what the medicine does in complicated biological terms.

Coconut oil no better than beef fat or pork lard

22/06/2017

Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than butter, beef dripping and pork lard, and can increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. That’s the stark new warning contained in updated advice from the American Heart Association (AHA). A diet high in saturated fat can lead to clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Despite coconut oil being commonly sold as a health food and a “healthier” alternative to other saturated fats, the AHA says there are no good studies to support this. In fact, 82% of the fat found in coconut oil is saturated, which is higher than butter (63%), beef dripping (50%) and pork lard (39%). And studies show that like other saturated fats, coconut oil can increase “bad” cholesterol. The AHA says people should watch how much saturated fat they eat and replace some of it with unsaturated vegetable oils, like olive oil and sunflower oil. Dr Frank Sacks, lead author of the AHA advice, said: "We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels." Nevertheless, saturated fat is still an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and shouldn’t be completely cut out, just limited. In the UK, Public Health England advises that men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women no more than 20g a day.

Vaccine that lowers cholesterol could prevent heart disease

20/06/2017

A vaccine that helps lower cholesterol will now be trialled on humans following successful studies in mice. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna will now test the safety of their experimental treatment – which stops fatty deposits clogging the arteries – on 72 volunteers. If the trials are successful, the vaccine would offer an alternative for people who currently take pills on a daily basis to reduce their risk of angina, stroke and heart attack. Writing about their cholesterol-lowering vaccine in the European Heart Journal, Dr Guenther Staffler and colleagues from The Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research say it will take many more years of tests before it is known whether the treatment is safe and effective in humans. In studies of mice, the treatment cut low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 50% over 12 months and appeared to stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Regardless of whether the vaccine becomes available in the future, the researchers were keen to stress that it should not be seen as an excuse for people to avoid exercise and eat lots of high-fat food. Nevertheless, the treatment could be useful for individuals who have high cholesterol due to an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.

New drug creates a 'real sun tan' without the risk of skin cancer

15/06/2017

A new drug developed by scientists that mimic sunlight could revolutionise the way in which people tan themselves. The drug tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin, with no damaging UV radiation involved. It’s hoped the drug – which can even work on redheads (who normally just burn when exposed to direct sunlight – could prevent skin cancer and perhaps even slow the appearance of ageing. Our skin gets tanned when it is exposed to UV light and becomes damaged. Our bodies then compensate by producing melanin, which acts as a natural sunblock. The drug, which was developed by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, is rubbed into the skin to kick-start the melanin production process, effectively skipping the damage to the skin. Dr David Fisher, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: "It has a potent darkening effect. "Under the microscope it's the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion." Dr Fisher also said that the team’s biggest motivation was not to create a new cosmetic, but instead to help protect people’s skin from skin cancer – the most common type of cancer. He went on to say that dark pigment is actually associated with a lower risk of all cancers – a fact that highlights just how ground-breaking the new drug could be in the future. More testing will now be conducted to fully check the drug’s safety, although the researchers say that so far there has been “no hint of problems.”    

Being married is ‘good for your health’

13/06/2017

A study of nearly a million UK adults has found that being married appears to be good for your health, boosting your chances of survival if you have a major heart risk factor, like high cholesterol. All of the individuals involved in the study had high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes and the researchers discovered the ones who were married fared much better than those who were single. Dr Paul Carter and colleagues from Aston Medical School presented the findings of their study at the British Cardiovascular Society conference. They believe that having something special in your life is what’s important, rather than simply being married. At the end of their 14-year ACALM study, the researchers found that married men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s with high cholesterol had a 16% greater chance of being alive than their single counterparts. Dr Carter said: "We need to unpick the underlying reasons a bit more, but it appears there's something about being married that is protective, not only in patients with heart disease but also those with heart disease risk factors. "We're not saying that everyone should get married though. "We need to replicate the positive effects of marriage and use friends, family and social support networks in the same way." Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "The take-home message is that our social interactions, as well as medical risk factors such as high blood pressure, are important determinants of both our health and wellbeing. "Whether you are married or not, if you have any of the main risk factors for heart disease, then you can call upon loved ones to help you to manage them."

Simple blood test can detect cancer years before symptoms appear

08/06/2017

A simple blood test that accurately detects several different types of cancer years before symptoms even appear could revolutionise how the disease is treated, scientists have said. Researchers hope the non-invasive test will pave the way for a future where the straightforward procedure could form part of routine health check-ups. It’s thought that thousands of deaths each year could be prevented with the tests as they can detect tumours at an early stage, when treatment is most effective. At present, the best method for detecting cancer is a biopsy, which involves cutting out a small piece of tumour tissue for lab analysis. However, biopsies are invasive and often painful, and a person already needs to have a tumour or at least a suspected tumour to have something cut out of it. That’s why scientists have been working to develop blood tests that can do the same, without the need for surgery. Speaking about the breakthrough, Dr Bert Vogelstein, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told The Guardian: “It’s fair to say that if you could detect all cancers while they are still localized, you could diminish cancer deaths by 90 per cent.”

Children with TVs in their bedrooms have an increased risk of obesity

06/06/2017

Children who have TVs in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight than those who don’t, according to new research. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the study by scientists from University College London analysed data from more than 12,000 children in the UK. They found that girls in particular were more likely to put on weight the longer they spent watching TV. The scientists found more than 50% of the children had TVs in their bedrooms at the age of seven. Interestingly, girls who had TVs in their bedrooms at the age of seven were 30% more likely to be overweight by the time they were 11, compared to kids who did not have TVs in their bedrooms. For boys, the risk was slightly less at 20%. While the link between TVs and being overweight isn’t fully known, the researchers believe it is due to the children getting less sleep and snacking while they are in front of their TVs. Researcher Dr Anja Heilmann said: "Our study shows there is clear link between having a TV in the bedroom as a young child and being overweight a few years later." The scientists behind the research are now calling for more studies to see if similar patterns exist with laptops and mobile phones.

Scientists develop ultra-tough antibiotic to help fight superbugs

01/06/2017

Scientists in the United States have re-engineered a crucial antibiotic in the hope that it will be able to wipe out some of the world’s most deadly superbugs. According to the PNAS journal, the new version of vancomycin is a thousand times more potent than the old drug and fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much more difficult for bugs to dodge. Despite the fact it hasn’t been tested on animals or people yet, the Scripps Research Institute team behind the drug hope it will be ready for use within five years if it passes more tests. The breakthrough is an important one as many experts have already warned we are on the verge of an “antibiotic Armageddon”, which could see some infections become untreatable with current drugs. One such hard-to-treat infection is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE. While some antibiotics do work against it, 60-year-old drug vancomycin is now powerless. That’s one of the reasons the team from Scripps set out to boost its potency and killing ability. Prof Nigel Brown of the Microbiology Society said: "This development could be hugely important. "Vancomycin is an antibiotic of last resort against some serious infections. There has been great concern that resistance has been emerging."

Scientists find that smoking when pregnant harms the livers of unborn babies

30/05/2017

Smoking when pregnant has long been frowned upon, but now a new study has revealed how cigarettes can damage the developing liver cells of unborn babies. The team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, found that the deadly cocktail of chemicals found in cigarettes is particularly harmful to developing liver cells. Furthermore, they discovered that cigarette chemicals affect male and female foetuses differently, with male tissue showing liver scarring and female tissue showing more damage to cell metabolism. Using embryonic stem cells, the team developed a way of testing how maternal smoking affects liver tissue. They used pluripotent stem cells - cells that have the ability to transform into other cell types - to build foetal liver tissue. They then exposed said tissue to the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes – in particular, the specific substances known to circulate in foetuses when mothers smoke. Dr David Hay from the University of Edinburgh's centre for regenerative medicine, said: "Cigarette smoke is known to have damaging effects on the foetus, yet we lack appropriate tools to study this in a very detailed way. "This new approach means that we now have sources of renewable tissue that will enable us to understand the cellular effect of cigarettes on the unborn foetus."

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