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'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."

How waist size can predict cancer risk

25/05/2017

Men with waists over 40 inches and women with waists over 35 inches are at greater risk of certain cancers, as well as type 2 diabetes. That’s the message to come out of a study by scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an arm of the World Health Organisation. According to Dr Heinz Freisling, the lead author of the study published in the British Journal of Cancer, a person’s waist measurement is as good at predicting cancer risk as their body mass index (BMI). His advice is for people to know their waistlines. “You only need to put a tape measure around your belly button. This is easy to do and can give a person an indication of whether their risk for specific cancers is increased or not – for instance pancreas or liver cancer which are known to be related to increased body fatness or obesity,” he said. Being overweight or obese is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to 13 types of cancer, including bowel, breast and pancreas. The study combined data from about 43,000 participants who had been followed for an average of 12 years and more than 1,600 people were diagnosed with an obesity-related cancer.

Risk of chronic disease increases with just 14 days of physical inactivity

23/05/2017

While the association between a lack of exercise and an increased risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, is well-established, new research shows that just 14 days of physical inactivity can increase a person's risk such conditions. A study by the University of Liverpool found that young, healthy adults who switched from moderate-to-vigorous activity and then to near-sedentary behaviour for just 14 days experienced metabolic changes that could raise their risk of chronic disease and even premature death. Presenting their findings at the European Congress on Obesity 2017 in Portugal, Study leader Dr. Dan Cuthbertson and colleagues said that reducing physical activity for just 14 days led to a loss of skeletal muscle mass in the participants. However, the reduction of physical activity for 14 days also led to an increase in total body fat. Furthermore, said body fat was most likely to accumulate centrally, which the team notes is a significant risk factor for chronic disease. Current guidelines recommend that adults aged 18-64 undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that fewer than 50% of adults meet these exercise recommendations. Are you doing enough exercise each week? Even just small lifestyle changes can make a big difference when it comes to your risk of chronic disease.

People with non-O blood at greater risk of heart attack

04/05/2017

People with non-O blood could be at greater risk of stroke and heart attack, research suggests. Scientists say it's because A, B and AB blood contains higher levels of a blood-clotting protein. The research, which was presented at the 4th World Congress on Acute Heart Failure, analysed studies involving 1.3m people. It found that people 15 in 1,000 people with non-O blood suffered a heart attack, compared to 14 in 1,000 people with O blood. While these figures don't sound that startling at first, when applied to a whole population the numbers become more important. It is hoped that the findings will help doctors better identify who is at risk of developing heart disease. However, Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the findings would not have a large impact on the current advice issued by the charity. "Most of a person's risk estimation is determined by age, genetics (family history and ethnicity) and other modifiable risk factors including diet, weight, level of physical activity, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. "People with a non-O blood group type - AO, BO and AB - need to take the same steps as anyone wanting to reduce their CVD risk." So regardless of your blood type, the advice remains the same: improve your diet, weight, level of physical activity and don't smoke. In addition, manage blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes too. There's nothing you can do about your blood group, but you can make positive lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

France Surgery once again triumphant at the IMTJ Awards

02/05/2017

This year's International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) Awards were held on April 26 in the beautiful town of Opatija, Croatia on the Adriatic coast. France Surgery had been nominated in the 'Best use of technology in medical tourism' category, so a small team travelled from France to Croatia to attend the awards ceremony. The best use of technology category recognises companies that have "developed or demonstrated innovative technology in healthcare enabling technology or applications, or for the innovative use of existing technology in health management to the benefit of the international patient." And it's with great pleasure and much honour that we can reveal that we won! Shown above accepting our award are France Surgery co-founders Carine Hilaire, Françoise Loesch and Dr. Marc Giraud, together with Keith Pollard, the Managing Director of International Medical Travel Journal. We’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all our patients and everyone who has helped contribute to our success. Facilitating world-class medical procedures here in France and providing the best recovery services available is our passion, and it's so rewarding to be recognised (again) by the IMTJ. You can find out more information about the IMTJ Awards on the official website here.

Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to get first ever malaria vaccine

24/04/2017

The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries - Kenya, Ghana and Malawi - starting in 2018; a move that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. The RTS,S vaccine, as it's known, trains the body's immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. However, it is not yet known if the vaccine will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world where access to healthcare is often very limited. This is because the vaccine needs to be given four times over an 18-month period. The concern is that while the vaccine schedule could be followed in a closely-controlled and well-funded clinical trial, real-world situations may prove more difficult - especially in poorer countries. It's the primary reason the WHO is running trials of the vaccine in the three aforementioned countries. It is thought that high risk areas will be targeted first in each of the three countries, all of which already run large programmes to tackle malaria. The trial will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. In the clinical trial, the vaccine prevented nearly four in 10 cases of malaria in this age group. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: "The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. "Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. "Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."

Compound found in frog slime destroys flu virus

19/04/2017

A compound found in the slimy mucus from a particular species of frog in India destroys the influenza (flu) virus, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Immunity. Researchers from the Emory Vaccine Centre and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in India say the frog slime destroys the H1 variety of influenza viruses. It's hoped that the discovery will lead to powerful new flu remedies being developed in the future. The frog, called hydrophylax bahuvistara, is a type of fungoid frog which was first discovered in 2015 and lives in the forests of south west India. It has an eye-catching orange stripe down the back of its body. For the study, the researchers collected secretions from the frogs' skin before releasing them back into the wild. They then began analysing the different chemicals found in the slime. They managed to isolate small structures that act as "anti-flu peptides", which were used to successfully vaccinate mice against the swine flu virus (Influenza A of H1). The peptides were found to not only blow up the virus, but also leave healthy tissue intact. Speaking to NBC News, Dr Jacob, senior study author and associate professor in microbiology, said: "This peptide kills the viruses. It kind of blows them up. There's no collateral damage." The team decided to call the flu-destroying compound urumin, after an Indian whip-like sword used in martial arts in the south of India called an urumi.

Toddlers who use touchscreen devices sleep less

17/04/2017

Toddlers who regularly use touchscreen devices, such as smartphones and tablets, don't sleep as well as their counterparts who don't, according to new research. The study in Scientific Reports shows that every hour a toddler spends playing with a touchscreen device each day shortens their sleep by almost 16 minutes. Conducted by Birkbeck, University of London and King’s College London, the study questioned 715 parents, with kids under three years old, about their children's touchscreen device usage and sleep patterns. It found that 75% of toddlers used a touchscreen device on a daily basis and slept for nearly 16 minutes less for every hour of use as a result. While the study isn't definitive, it does suggest that playing with touchscreen devices could be linked with possible sleep problems. However, the study also found that toddlers who play with smartphones and tablets have accelerated development of their fine motor skills. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Tim Smith, one of the researchers involved told the BBC: "It isn't a massive amount when you're sleeping 10-12 hours a day in total, but every minute matters in young development because of the benefits of sleep." His advice is not to ban toddlers from playing with touchscreen devices altogether, but to limit the amount of time they spend on them instead - the same as a lot of parents do with time spent in front of the TV.

Dairy-free diets a 'ticking time bomb' for bone health, warns charity

13/04/2017

There are all sorts of diets out there, but a certain type in particular could be a "ticking time bomb" for young people's bone health, according to a leading charity in the UK. Dairy-free diets, which see the amount of dairy consumed significantly reduced or cut out completely, says the National Osteoporosis Society, are putting people's health at risk. That's because milk and other dairy products are important sources of calcium, which boosts bone strength. A survey by the charity found that a fifth of under-25s are cutting out or reducing dairy in their diet. Furthermore, its findings suggest many young people are seeking and following dietary advice they find online. While some of this advice can be good, the charity warns that some individuals are restricting what they eat too much. Prof Susan Lanham-New, head of nutritional sciences at the University of Surrey and clinical advisor to the National Osteoporosis Society, said: "Diet in early adulthood is so important because by the time we get into our late 20s it is too late to reverse the damage caused by poor diet and nutrient deficiencies and the opportunity to build strong bones has passed." In the UK, the Department of Health recommends 700mg of calcium a day for adults and pregnant women, but that increases to 1,000mg a day for boys and girls between 11 and 18. Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body and helps to regulate metabolism, promote healthy bones and teeth, controls muscle contraction and blood clotting, and transmits information via the nervous system.

Smoking causes one in 10 deaths globally, study reveals

11/04/2017

In 2015 alone, 6.4 million deaths worldwide were attributed to smoking, according to a major new study, the results of which were published in The Lancet medical journal. Even more eye-opening is the fact that half of those deaths occurred in just four countries - China, India, USA, and Russia. The study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US found a staggering one in 10 deaths globally is caused by smoking, despite decades of tobacco control policies in many countries. Furthermore, mortality rates could rise even more as tobacco companies aggressively target new, emerging markets. Interestingly, the number of people that smoked daily in 2015 was one billion (one in four men and one in 20 women), which is actually a reduction from the one in three men and one in 12 women who did in 1990. However, population growth has meant there were actually more people smoking in 2015 than 1990. "Despite more than half a century of unequivocal evidence of the harmful effects of tobacco on health, today, one in every four men in the world is a daily smoker," said senior author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou. "Smoking remains the second largest risk factor for early death and disability, and so to further reduce its impact we must intensify tobacco control to further reduce smoking prevalence and attributable burden."

Marmite yeast extract may help to boost brain function - study

06/04/2017

The slogan for British yeast extract Marmite is 'You either love it or hate it'. And while many people in America may not have even heard of it, a new study will come as good news for lovers of the popular food stuff. A by-product of beer brewing, Marmite is a sticky, almost black coloured food paste with a very distinctive, powerful, salty flavour. People in the UK usually eat it in sandwiches or on toast. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of York in the UK, Marmite could help boost brain function. The study found that participants who ate one teaspoon of Marmite every day displayed a reduced response to visual stimuli - an indicator of increased levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Simply put, GABA "clams" the human brain and helps restore the optimal balance of neuronal activity required for healthy brain functioning. Low GABA levels have previously been linked with anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and autism. That's why researchers have been looking at ways to increase GABA levels in the brain. Speaking about the findings of the research, Senior author Dr. Daniel Baker, of the Department of Psychology at York, said: "Since we've found a connection between diet and specific brain processes involving GABA, this research paves the way for further studies looking into how diet could be used as a potential route to understanding this neurotransmitter." The study serves as a great reminder of how diet has the ability to alter brain processes.

More than 20 million Brits 'physically inactive', study reveals

04/04/2017

More than 20 million people in Britain are physically inactive and increasing their risk of heart disease, according to a new report by the British Heart Foundation. The charity has warned that the lack of exercise by such a large proportion of the British population is costing the NHS a staggering £1.2bn each year. Women are 36% more likely than men to be physically inactive, which the report defines as not meeting the UK government's guidelines for physical activity - 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity and strength exercises on two or more days a week. However, despite the report finding that 11.8 million women were physically inactive compared with 8.3 million men, it is actually men who sit down for longer (78 days a year compared to 74 for women). Furthermore, inactivity levels differ by region. For example, 47% (2.7 million) of people living in the North West of England were found to be inactive, whereas people in the South East had the lowest rate at 34%. Over five million deaths across the world each year are attributed to physical inactivity, making it one of the top 10 leading causes of death. In the UK, physical inactivity contributes to almost one in 10 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year, as well as one in six deaths from any cause. Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in the UK remain stubbornly high, and, combined, these two risk factors present a substantial threat to our cardiovascular health and risk of early death.

Drinking tea may lower the risk of cognitive decline

30/03/2017

Are you partial to a nice cup of tea? If you are, it could be a habit that serves you well in the future as scientists have discovered that drinking tea can potentially lower a person's risk of cognitive decline by as much as 50%. The study, the findings of which were published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, was led by Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. It involved 957 Chinese adults aged 55 and older, focussing on their tea consumption, including frequency, quantity and type. All of the study participants underwent standard assessments designed to gauge their cognitive function. The results showed that the individuals who drank tea regularly had a 50% lower risk of cognitive decline. Furthermore, adults with the APOE e4 gene - which is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease - and who also drank tea regularly, had an 86% lower risk of cognitive decline. In addition, the scientists say that the greatest cognitive benefits were witnessed with tea that was brewed from tea leaves, such as green tea, black tea and oolong tea. The source of the cognitive benefits is thought to lie in the bioactive compounds found in tea. "These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration," Lei explains. "Our understanding of the detailed biological mechanisms is still very limited so we do need more research to find out definitive answers." More studies are now planned to further investigate the link between tea and cognitive function.

Night-time toilet trips linked to salt intake - study

28/03/2017

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with an urge to go to the toilet? A new study from Japan suggests that it could be linked with the amount of salt you consume. For the study, researchers from Nagasaki University analysed more than 300 volunteers. They found that a reduced salt intake caused people to urinate less in the middle of the night. The problem - called nocturia - is thought to mainly affect people over the age of 60. It disrupts sleep and can have a significant impact on people's lives. Presenting their findings at the European Society of Urology congress in London, the researchers said that a sensible diet could help to improve the symptoms of nocturia. During the study, patients with a high salt intake were advised to cut back. Instead of needing the toilet more than twice a night their trips dropped to just one. As a result, their quality of life also improved. To add extra weight to the study's findings, 98 volunteers were asked to eat more salt than normal. They found they went to the toilet more often at night time. Study author Dr Matsuo Tomohiro said that while larger studies were needed to confirm the link, the results could still offer help for older people. "This work holds out the possibility that a simply dietary modification might significantly improve the quality of life for many people," he said.

Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can lead to people being 'wide awake drunk'

22/03/2017

Are you partial to energy drinks mixed with alcohol on a night out? New research from Canada might make you change your drinking habit, as it reveals the dangers linked to this risky combination. According to the Canadian researchers, the caffeine found in many popular energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster, can make people feel wide awake and lead to them drinking more. This can lead to a greater risk of accidents or injuries. In addition, medics say energy drinks and alcohol cause disrupted sleep and a raised heart rate. Independent UK-based charity Drinkaware says that mixing alcohol and energy drinks can lead to people being "wide awake drunk" - a combination of the stimulating effects of caffeine and the brain-slowing effects of alcohol. The Canadian researchers analysed 13 different studies conducted between 1981 and 2016, and found that a link existed between drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks and an increased risk of fights, falls and accidents. Audra Roemer, study author and doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Victoria, said: "Usually when you're drinking alcohol, you eventually get tired and you go home. "Energy drinks mask that, so people may underestimate how intoxicated they are, end up staying out later, consume more alcohol, and engage in risky behaviour and more hazardous drinking practices."

New drug slashes bad cholesterol levels, reduces risk of heart attack and stroke

21/03/2017

Doctors say that an innovative new drug can cut bad cholesterol to unprecedented levels, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes for millions of people. Accounting for around 15 million deaths each year, heart attacks and strokes are the world's biggest killers. They are also the reason why people take drugs known as statins to reduce their levels of bad cholesterol, or LDL. Bad cholesterol causes blood vessels to fur up, which increases the chances of them blocking, leading to the heart or brain being starved of vital oxygen. The new drug, evolocumab, changes the way a person's liver works to help reduce bad cholesterol and is thought to be much more effective than statins. Evolocumab's potential was seen during a large international trial involving 27,000 patients who were already taking statins. "The end result was cholesterol levels came down and down and down and we've seen cholesterol levels lower than we have ever seen before in the practice of medicine," according to Prof Peter Sever, from Imperial College London. "They would have another 20% reduction in risk and that is a big effect. It is probably the most important trial result of a cholesterol lowering drug in over 20 years," he added. One heart attack or stroke was prevented for every 74 patients taking evolocumab in the two-year trial. The British Heart Foundation's medical director, Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, said: "This trial is a significant advance" in fighting one of the biggest killers in the world.

New drug could help one in five breast cancers

16/03/2017

A new type of breast cancer treatment could help up to 10,000 women in the UK, according to scientists. Historically, biological therapies have been used to help fight rare, inherited genetic errors which can lead to cancer, such as the BRCA one actress Angelina Jolie carries. However, a new study has found that such therapies could also help women diagnosed with breast cancer who do not have these genetic errors. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute study suggests that such therapies could be effective in one in five breast cancers (20%). For comparison, the number of women who develop cancer and have faulty BRCA genes is 1 to 5%. For the study, the researchers analysed the genetic make-up of breast cancer in 560 different patients. They found that a significant proportion had "mutational signatures" that were very similar to faulty BRCA. Therefore, given the close similarities, these cancers could also potentially be treated with biological therapies. Clinical trials are now being called for to confirm the researchers' theory. Baroness Delyth Morgan, from Breast Cancer Now, said the initial results were "a revelation". "We hope it could now lead to a watershed moment for the use of mutational signatures in treating the disease," she said. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes, limiting alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight can all help to reduce a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

The local surgery app that could help save lives in Africa

14/03/2017

It is hoped that a new mobile app developed in Canada could help treat millions of patients in Africa. MOST, or mobile optimised skill training, is an application that can be accessed on a tablet or smartphone which helps accelerate the number of healthcare workers that can be taught essential surgical skills. The brainchild of Vancouver-based surgeon and UBC surgical professor Dr. Ronald Lett, MOST was brought to life by Surrey, B.C. tech company Conquer Mobile and will be provided by the Canadian Network for International Surgery (CNIS) for free. Unlike existing face-to-face courses, which are usually taught by doctors visiting Africa to limited groups, MOST will facilitate the sharing of skills in the community long after visiting teams have left.  At present, there are 5 mobile training courses available in MOST, but another 7 are planned for the future. The new technology will be used to train 25,000 African healthcare workers and treat 2 million patients over the next 3 years. [caption id="attachment_3741" align="alignnone" width="620"] Dr. Ronald Lett has been teaching surgical skills to healthcare workers in Sub-Saharan Africa for 22 years. (Image credit: Ronald Lett)[/caption]   "The problem is there is a huge demand for surgical education, limited funding, and therefore we feel that we can optimize training, by having it available using newer technology," said Lett. African healthcare workers will be able to download the app onto their smartphone or tablet and go through the academic knowledge part using games and skills questions. There will also be avatars which react and provide feedback as though the individual were practising on a real life patient. Today, women in Africa are 10 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in the Americas. Furthermore, 13% of Africans will die as a result of an injury. The MOST app will be tested by CNIS in Ethiopia and Rwanda this spring or early summer.

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