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Cleaning products as bad as 20-a-day cigarette habit for women – study

20/02/2018

Using cleaning products regularly can be as bad for your lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, a new study has found. Tracking people with an average age of 34 over a 20-year period, scientists at Norway’s University of Bergen found that women who regularly used cleaning products had lung function decline equivalent to those who smoked 20 cigarettes a day. For the study, the researchers measured the lung function of participants by testing the amount of air they were able to forcibly breathe out. They then examined the results alongside surveys answered by the study participants. They found that women who regularly used cleaning products had noticeably decreased lung capacities, as well as increased rates of asthma. Prof Cecile Svanes, who led the team from Bergen, said: "We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age". So what should you be using instead of cleaning products? According to the scientists, microfiber cloths and water should be “enough for most purposes”, while keeping your home ventilated and using liquid cleaners, not sprays, could also help lessen the impact of cleaning products.

New Superbug-killing antibiotics found in soil

15/02/2018

Scientists in the United States have found a new family of antibiotics living in soil and early tests show they could be effective in killing several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to existing antibiotic treatments. The compounds, called malacidins, have been shown to kill the superbug MRSA, which is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the traditional antibiotics used to treat such infections. Experts say the finding holds a huge amount of promise in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At present, they are estimated to kill around 700,000 people every year. Discovering new antibiotics in soil isn’t actually that rare. At any one time dirt is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms which produce an abundance of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics. A team at New York's Rockefeller University, led by Dr Sean Brady, has been busy unearthing them using a gene sequencing technique to analyse soil samples taken from all over the US. The team had a hunch that malacidins might be important when they found them in many of the soil samples they analysed. Despite the potentially ground-breaking importance of the discovery, Dr Brady stressed there’s still a long way to go, saying: "It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity."

Pancreatic cancer symptoms: why you should never ignore back pain

13/02/2018

You should never ignore back pain because it could be a sign of pancreatic cancer. That’s the frank warning from charity Pancreatic Cancer UK. While pancreatic cancer often doesn’t show any symptoms in its early stages, some signs may begin to show as the disease progresses. One of the earliest signs of the disease is abdominal and/or back pain. The pain usually starts as a general feeling of discomfort in the stomach area. This then spreads to a person’s back and while it may come and go at first, it often becomes constant over time. “It can be worse when lying down, and sitting forward can sometimes make it feel better. It may be worse after eating. The tummy area may also feel tender,” said the charity. Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include indigestion and unexplained weight loss. People with pancreatic cancer also develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and may experience difficulty swallowing, vomiting and a change in bowel habits. Anyone experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above should see their doctor without delay. While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer still isn’t known, the disease does appear to mainly affect people over 75 years old. Experts say that people can lower their risk of developing it by reducing their consumption of alcohol and red meat. [Related reading: Prostate cancer deaths outnumber those from breast cancer for first time in UK]

Common amino acid found in asparagus linked to spread of breast cancer

08/02/2018

The food you eat could influence the growth rate and spread of cancer, a new study has found. According to scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, breast tumours in mice struggled to grow without the dietary nutrient asparagine, which is found in asparagus, poultry, seafood and many other foods. When mice with an aggressive form of breast cancer were placed on a low-asparagine diet or given drugs to block the amino acid, their tumours struggled to spread. Scientists hope to be able to take advantage of cancer’s so-called culinary addictions in the future and develop new treatments based on certain foods. Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine. "It's possible that in future, this drug could be repurposed to help treat breast cancer patients." But before you ban asparagus from your home, be aware that more research is needed, including trials in humans. Also, because asparagine is present in so many foods, it is almost impossible to avoid. Baroness Delyth Morgan, the chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said people should not drastically alter their diets as a result of this research. "We don't recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors,” she said.

Prostate cancer deaths outnumber those from breast cancer for first time in UK

06/02/2018

New figures show that for the first time ever the number of men dying from prostate cancer in the UK has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer. While lung and bowel cancer remain the top cancer killers, prostate cancer is now third, according to figures released by Prostate Cancer UK. In 2015, 11,819 men died from prostate cancer, compared to 11,442 women from breast cancer – a reality that Prostate Cancer UK says is due to advances in diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The charity says that the UK’s aging population is one of the reasons why more men are developing and dying from prostate cancer. Angela Culhane, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said prostate cancer survival rates could be increased by developing better diagnostic tests and using them to form a nationwide screening programme. At present, there is no single, reliable test for prostate cancer. Also, men with the disease can live for decades without showing any symptoms. Those most at risk are men with male relatives who have had the disease, black men and men aged over 50. Ms Culhane said: “It's incredibly encouraging to see the tremendous progress that has been made in breast cancer over recent years. “The good news is that many of these developments could be applied to prostate cancer and we're confident that with the right funding, we can dramatically reduce deaths within the next decade.” You can find out more about prostate cancer treatment with us here at France Surgery by visiting the oncology section of our website and selecting the prostate cancer link.

Brain implant could help Alzheimer’s patients live independently for longer

01/02/2018

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by progressive memory loss and the deterioration of other cognitive functions. It is thought to affect around 5.4 million adults worldwide and, at present, there is no cure. As a result, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and helping sufferers lead better lives. However, a new brain implant could help people affected by Alzheimer's to live independently for longer. A recent clinical trial at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre in Columbus investigated how deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy can help Alzheimer's patients. It involves implanting very thin electrical wires into the brain's frontal lobes and sending electrical signals, which are regulated by a device in the person’s chest, to stimulate the relevant brain networks. Following the treatment, one long-term dementia patient, LaVonne, 85, can cook meals, dress herself and organise outings. Speaking about the study, Dr Douglas Scharre, from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, said: "By stimulating this region of the brain, the Alzheimer's subjects' cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer's patients' in a matched comparison group not being treated with [deep brain stimulation]." Further research will now be conducted to see whether the DBS therapy can be used in less invasive, non-surgical ways.

Just one cigarette a day increases heart disease and stroke risk, study finds

30/01/2018

Just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, a study has found, dispelling the myth that cutting back, not quitting altogether, can eliminate health issues. The study found that just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s chances of heart disease by about 50% and chances of a stroke by 30% than people who have never smoked. The bottom line is that there is no safe level of smoking when it comes to heart disease and stroke. Cardiovascular disease, not cancer, remains the greatest mortality risk for smokers, accounting for approximately 48% of smoking-related premature deaths. And while the number of people who smoke in the UK has been falling, the percentage of people smoking one to five cigarettes a day has been steadily rising, researchers said. However, cutting down on cigarettes is always a good start and people who do so are more likely to quit in the long-run. Prof Allan Hackshaw from the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, who led the study, said: "There's been a trend in quite a few countries for heavy smokers to cut down, thinking that's perfectly fine, which is the case for things like cancer. "But for these two common disorders, which they're probably more likely to get than cancer, it's not the case. They've got to stop completely." For the study, the researchers at UCL analysed data from 141 separate smoking-related studies and published their findings in the BMJ.

Scientists move one step closer to developing universal cancer test

25/01/2018

Developing a universal blood test for cancer has been one of the biggest goals in medicine ever and now scientists at John Hopkins University have taken a huge step towards achieving it. The team have trialled a test that can detect eight common forms of cancer, with the ultimate goal being to develop an annual test that can catch cancers early and save lives. While more work is needed, experts in the UK have described the breakthrough as “enormously exciting”. The test works by picking up on tiny traces of mutated DNA and proteins released into a person’s bloodstream by tumours. The CancerSEEK test, as it is known, looks for mutations in 16 genes and eight different proteins released by tumours. In a trial involving 1,005 patients with cancers in the stomach, liver, ovary, pancreas, colon, oesophagus, lung or breast, which had not yet spread to other tissues, the test was able to successfully detect 70% of the cancers. The test is particularly exciting as it was able to detect some cancers that currently have no early detection screening programmes. Pancreatic cancer is one area where the test could really make a big difference. At present, four in five pancreatic cancer patients die within the year they are diagnosed. That’s because the disease emits so few symptoms and sufferers are often diagnosed too late. The CancerSEEK test will now be trialled on individuals who have not been diagnosed with cancer. This will be the real measure of its effectiveness and usefulness.  

A third of UK women too embarrassed to have a smear test, survey finds

23/01/2018

Smear tests can prevent 75% of cervical cancers, yet young women in Britain are avoiding having them done because they are too embarrassed, a survey suggests. According to the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust survey of 2,017 British women, one-third delay having a smear test because they are too embarrassed. Of those women, 38% are concerned about smell, 35% are embarrassed about their body shape and 34% about the appearance of their vulva. A third of women surveyed also admitted they wouldn’t go for a smear test if they hadn’t waxed or shaved their bikini area. Worryingly, one in six (16%) women would rather miss a smear test appointment than a gym class and one in seven (14%) a waxing appointment. Robert Music, of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "Please don't let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test. "Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year, they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable." Every year, five million women in the UK are invited for a cervical smear test. One in four do not attend, despite cervical cancer being the most common type of cancer in women under 35. In fact, approximately 5,000 women’s lives are saved by cervical screening in the UK each year – a reality that highlights just how important these tests are. In Britain alone each year, a total of 220,000 women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities, which can be a sign of the existence of pre-cancerous cells.  

Stifling a sneeze can lead to a ruptured throat, as one man in the UK recently found out

18/01/2018

Have you ever been in a public place or maybe even a business setting and needed to sneeze? While it can be embarrassing, you should never try and stifle the urge to sneeze because it could end up causing you serious harm. Medics in Leicester, UK, recently treated a man who had ruptured his throat after trying to stifle a sneeze by clamping his mouth and nose shut with his hand. While it’s a pretty rare occurrence, experts have warned people to always allow their sneezes to come out naturally, while remembering to catch them in a tissue to prevent the spread of germs. Following the incident, the man said he immediately experienced a popping sensation in his neck and then had trouble swallowing and speaking, as well as a lot of pain. Over the next seven days, the man had to be fed through a tube while the tissues in his neck healed. He’s now made a full recovery, but his case highlights how a seemingly simple action can have a big impact on your health. Doctors from the ear, nose, throat (ENT) department at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said: "Halting a sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre and should be avoided." The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has even published a report on the incident, which outlines how halting a sneeze can even lead to “rupture of cerebral aneurysm”. So the next time you need to sneeze and want to halt it, don’t, as it could really harm your health.

New research shows that cycling does not harm men's sexual & urinary health

16/01/2018

Whether cycling has a negative impact on a man’s sexual health and/or urinary function has been the subject of several studies over the years. But now new research suggests that the sexual and urinary health of cyclists is comparable to that of runners and swimmers, and that the benefits of cycling “far outweigh the risks.” According to the authors of the new research, previous studies that looked at how cycling affects men’s sexual and urinary health lacked comparison groups. Benjamin Breyer, lead investigator from the University of California-San Francisco's urology department, said: "Cycling provides tremendous cardiovascular benefits and is low impact on joints. "The health benefits enjoyed by cyclists who ride safely will far out weight health risks." However, the study did show that cyclists had a greater chance of experiencing genital numbness, but that this could be significantly reduced by standing up while cycling for more than 20% of the time. The researchers are now interested in planning future work that looks at whether genital numbness is a possible predictor for future health problems.

French President Macron’s China visit seeks to boost trade relations

12/01/2018

French President Emmanuel Macron has just wrapped up his first official state visit to China – an event that experts say highlights his commitment to cementing positive relations between Beijing and Europe. One of the key messages conveyed during the French President’s visit related to the enormous possibilities and opportunities that exist for cooperation between China and Europe. Macron said that he is ready to work to “get the Europe-China relationship into the 21st Century” and will visit the country at least once every year while he is still the President of France. China’s president, Xi Jinping, said the two countries will look to deepen their “strategic cooperation,” a vision that was underlined by the fact the two countries signed a number of major trade deals during Macron’s visit, that included fields such as food, aerospace, online retailing and nuclear power. Macron also met with Alibaba founder Jack Ma, as well as a number of other officials from Chinese and French companies. He offered to open France to Chinese investment in exchange for greater access to China's markets for French companies. Talking about trade relations between the two countries, Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia Pacific at French bank Natixis, said Chinese consumers have a growing hunger for what France has to offer.

Singing helps mothers recover from post-natal depression faster - study

11/01/2018

We’ve reported before how singing in community groups can help people recover from mental illness. Now, new research suggests singing may also be beneficial for mothers suffering with post-natal depression. According to the study, which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, women with post-natal depression who took part in group singing sessions with their babies experienced a much quicker improvement in their symptoms than their counterparts who did not. Post-natal depression is thought to affect one in eight new mothers and early recovery is believed to be crucial for limiting its effects on both mother and baby. The study highlights how singing can be a more effective treatment for post-natal depression than creative play sessions and typical post-natal care – which usually includes family support, antidepressants and/or mindfulness. Speaking about the findings of the research, Principal investigator Dr Rosie Perkins said: "Post-natal depression is debilitating for mothers and their families, yet our research indicates that for some women something as accessible as singing with their baby could help to speed up recovery at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives."

Exercise can help middle-aged people reverse heart risk

09/01/2018

While many people will be using the start of the New Year to kick-start certain lifestyle changes in an attempt to become “healthier”, there are some who might think it’s too late based on their age. However, a new study has revealed that it’s often not too late for many who want to improve their fitness. In fact, with exercise, even individuals who are into their late middle age can reduce or even reverse the risk of heart failure caused by years of sedentary living. But there’s a slight catch – it requires at least two years of aerobic exercise four to five days a week. According to the study, which was published in the journal Circulation, individuals aged 45-64 who followed an aerobic exercise routine for two years showed an 18% improvement in their maximum oxygen intake while exercising and a more than 25% improvement in "plasticity" in the left ventricular muscle of the heart, compared to their counterparts who didn’t follow such an exercise regime. The take-home message of the research is that exercise needs to be part of a person’s daily routine, like teeth brushing. Dr Richard Siow, vice-dean for the faculty of life sciences and medicine at King's College London, said: "I think that's a very important take-home message for those of us who may have a doom and gloom view there's nothing we can do about it. Yes there is, we can start by getting off the couch to have a more active lifestyle."

Artificial Intelligence system could lead to more accurate heart & lung diagnoses

04/01/2018

Researchers at an Oxford hospital have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that can accurately diagnose heart and lung scans. The new AI could lead to more people being diagnosed earlier and prevent patients being sent home when they are still at risk of having a heart attack. It’s though the system will save the NHS billions of pounds by enabling various diseases to be detected much earlier. The heart disease technology will be available to NHS hospitals for free this summer. Currently, cardiologists use a person’s heartbeat to tell if there is a problem. However, even the most experienced doctors get it wrong in one in five cases. This leads to a patient being sent home when they are still at risk of a heart attack or undergoing an unnecessary operation. The AI system can pick up details on the scans that doctors cannot see, resulting in a more accurate diagnosis. So far, the system has been tested in clinical trials and the results aren’t expected to appear in a peer-reviewed journal until later this year. However, one of the system’s developers has said the data shows it greatly outperformed his fellow specialists. The government's healthcare tsar, Sir John Bell, has indicated that AI could "save the NHS". "There is about £2.2bn spent on pathology services in the NHS. You may be able to reduce that by 50%. AI may be the thing that saves the NHS," he said.

More exercise could be the key to quitting smoking

02/01/2018

It’s January 2 and for many people that means it’s time to start thinking about those New Year’s resolutions. The inevitable over-indulgence during the festive period will have triggered many of us to consider eating more healthily and exercising more this year, while others will be looking to give up smoking. The problem is that nicotine is a very addictive drug and many people struggle to give up cigarettes easily. But new research shows how exercising may reduce tobacco withdrawal symptoms. So, if you’re planning to try and quit, exercise could be the answer. Irritability, trouble sleeping and even depression are all withdrawal symptoms associated with giving up smoking. However, it’s been shown that exercise can reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. In fact, some older studies have discovered that even 10 minutes of exercise can immediately reduce the effects of tobacco cravings. A team from St George's, University of London, led by Dr. Alexis Bailey, a senior lecturer in neuropharmacology, found that mice addicted to nicotine who undertook two or 24 hours a day wheel running displayed a significant reduction of withdrawal symptom severity compared with the sedentary group. Furthermore, in the group of mice that exercised, researchers were able to see an increase in the activity of alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine, a type of nicotine brain receptor. Most startling of all was the fact just two hours of exercise daily had as much effect on relieving the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal as exercising continuously for 24 hours. SO, if you really want to crack your smoking habit and give up this year, maybe more exercise could be the key to your success.

Why too much screen time is damaging children’s eyes

28/12/2017

Many people know that hours spent on electronic devices isn’t good for their children’s waistlines, but new research now suggests it’s not doing their eyes any good either. A study published in the journal PLOS One says school-aged children who spend seven hours or more a week staring at computers or mobile phones are at higher risk of myopia, or nearsightedness. Myopia has become an increasing problem across the world in recent years, with rates in the United States and Europe at double the level they were 50 years ago. In East Asia, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, myopia rates have reached epidemic levels, with 90% of 18-year-olds now short-sighted. One of the reasons for this worrying trend is the amount of time children are spending in front of screens nowadays. However, it’s not the actual screens themselves that are the problem, but rather the fact that the kids using them are predominantly spending their time indoors, not outdoors. Sunlight plays an important role in protecting vision as a child’s eye is maturing. It prevents the eye from stretching too long and reduces the likelihood of the child becoming short-sighted. According to Dr. Christopher Starr, an ophthamologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, “It's really about limiting the time and encouraging them to get outside in the sun. No screen protector is going to make any real difference." Furthermore, while sitting too close to a television will not damage a child’s eye, it could be a sign they are suffering from myopia. 

Community singing groups 'improve mental health and help recovery'

26/12/2017

Being part of a community singing group makes people feel valued, increases their confidence and can help them recover from a mental illness, new research suggests. According to the study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, individuals involved in free weekly singing workshops found benefits to mood and social skills. The researchers also found that the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, which was started by Tracy Morefield more than 10 years ago in a psychiatric hospital, had even stopped some people from relapsing. The SYHO initiative is aimed at individuals with mental health conditions, as well as the general public, and regularly attracts hundreds of people to four weekly sing-alongs. Researchers from UEA's Norwich Medical School said a study of 20 SYHO group members over six months found singing and mixing socially had helped those who had suffered with serious mental health issues to function better in day-to-day life. Lead researcher prof Tom Shakespeare described it as a “low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community”. He said: “We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems. “We heard the participants calling the initiative a life saver and that it saved their sanity. Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it, they wouldn’t have managed – so we quickly began to see the massive impact it was having.” The research team are now encouraging other areas to consider running community singing groups.

UK’s most Googled health questions of 2017 revealed

21/12/2017

Have you ever turned to Dr Google when you’ve been feeling under the weather? If you have, you’re not alone. Nowadays, tons of people research symptoms they’re experiencing on the world’s largest search engine. But while many of these searches confirm that the searcher is suffering from a common cold, others can see a simple sore throat query spiral off into diagnosing all sorts of rare conditions. It’s a reality that makes Googling health conditions both convenient and potentially terrifying. As the year draws to a close, the team at Google Trends has released information on the most popular heath questions people in the UK asked the search engine in 2017. Topping the list is the rather generic “why do I feel sick?” search. That’s followed by “why am I always tired?” and “what is cancer?” Have you ever heard of lupus? It seems many people have and want to know more about it, as “what is lupus?” is fourth on the list. This could be because pop icon Selena Gomez was diagnosed with lupus in 2015 and underwent surgery for the condition over the summer. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes sufferers to feel fatigued, have swollen or painful joints, and skin irritation or rashes. Because lupus is an autoimmune disease it is not contagious. More information about lupus, including warning signs, can be found on the NHS website. The final question completing the top five is “what is sepsis?” Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can be triggered by an infection and leads to the body attacking its own organs and tissues. Sepsis can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught early enough and hasn’t already damaged any vital organs. More information about sepsis, including warning signs, can be found on the NHS website.

Smell associated with Parkinson's could lead to new diagnostic test

19/12/2017

Until now, the only way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease was by observing symptoms. This has been the case since James Parkinson first established it as a medical condition back in 1817. However, scientists are on the verge of discovering what causes a certain smell associated with sufferers of Parkinson’s, which could lead to the first diagnostic test for the disease going forward. The breakthrough came after a lady named Joy Milne noticed that her husband’s smell changed six years before he was diagnosed with the disease. She only linked the odour to Parkinson’s after visiting the charity Parkinson’s UK and meeting other sufferers. Remarkably, Joy was able to detect the disease under scientific conditions, a feat that astonished doctors. Now, a team of researchers from Manchester University in the UK has found distinctive molecules that are concentrated on the skin of Parkinson's patients. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease - which can lead to people struggling to walk, speak and sleep - and it is thought to affect one in 500 people in the UK. During the scientific tests, Joy even picked out a T-shirt worn by an individual in the control group (non-Parkinson’s sufferers) and said the person had the distinctive Parkinson’s smell. Three months later, Joy was informed that the individual had indeed been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Shopping vouchers incentivise new mothers to breastfeed, study finds

14/12/2017

A study conducted in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the UK has found that offering new mothers financial incentives in the form of shopping vouchers boosts breastfeeding rates. For the study, more than 10,000 mothers were offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers as an incentive to breastfeed. The vouchers could be used to buy food, household items, toys, clothes, books or DVDs in supermarkets and other shops. Breastfeeding levels are among the lowest in the world, with just 12% of new mothers in some areas feeding their six to eight week-old babies this way. However, with the voucher incentive scheme, breastfeeding rates in the areas involved rose by 6%. The women were given vouchers worth £120 if they signed declaration forms stating their babies had been breastfeed for the first six weeks of their lives. The mothers received a further £80 of vouchers if they were still breastfeeding after six months. Principal investigator Dr Clare Relton, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Our scheme offered vouchers to mothers as a way of acknowledging the value of breastfeeding to babies and mothers and the work involved in breastfeeding. “The trial found a significant increase in breastfeeding rates in areas where the scheme was offered. “It seems that the voucher scheme helped mothers to breastfeed for longer. Mothers reported they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.” NHS guidelines say that babies should be exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of their lives. Babies that are breastfed have fewer health problems in their younger years and are less likely to develop conditions such as diabetes when they are older. The five-year trial was funded by research councils, medical charities and Public Health England.

Huntington’s breakthrough hailed, may stop disease

11/12/2017

A pioneering breakthrough in the treatment of Huntington’s disease has seen the defect that causes it corrected for the first time. According to the research team from University College London, there is a real possibility that the deadly neurodegenerative disease could be stopped going forward. The team of scientists injected an experimental drug into spinal fluid which reduced the levels of toxic proteins in the brain. Experts are hailing the groundbreaking procedure as the potentially the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases for 50 years. Huntington’s disease is a particularly devastating illness that is passed down through families. Some sufferers have likened it to having Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease all at the same time. A genetic error causes the protein huntingtin – which is vital for brain development – to instead kill brain cells. The unstoppable degradation of brain cells in Huntington's patients leaves them in permanent decline and affects their movement, behaviour, memory and ability to think clearly. Huntington’s blights families and generally hits people while they are in their prime – 30s and 40s. Patients tend to die around 10-20 years after symptoms first appear. The revolutionary drug therapy works by effectively silencing the effects of the mutant huntingtin gene and preventing the harmful protein from ever being built. Professor Sarah Tabrizi, the lead researcher and director of University College London’s Huntington’s Disease Centre, said: “For the first time a drug has lowered the level of the toxic disease-causing protein in the nervous system, and the drug was safe and well-tolerated. This is probably the most significant moment in the history of Huntington’s since the gene [was isolated].”  

Weight loss can lead to type 2 diabetes reversal

06/12/2017

A “watershed” trial involving almost 300 people has seen nearly half the participants reverse their type 2 diabetes in just five months. Trial participants followed a low-calorie diet of soups and shakes for up to five months, which led to massive weight loss. One participant, Isobel Murray, 65, who had weighed 15 stone, lost over four stone (25kg) and now no longer needs diabetes pills. "I've got my life back," she says. Prior to the trial, Isobel’s blood sugar levels were too high and her diabetes medication was being increased on a regular basis. So, she went on to the all-liquid diet for 17 weeks and gave up both cooking and shopping. She didn’t even eat meals with her husband during the trial. Following the trial, 46% of participants were in remission a year later and 86% who lost 15kg (2st 5lb) or more put their type 2 diabetes into remission. Just 4% went into remission with the other best treatments currently used. Speaking about the results of the trial, Prof Mike Lean, from Glasgow University, said: "It's hugely exciting. We now have clear evidence that weight loss of 10-15kg is enough to turn this disease (diabetes) around.” The charity Diabetes UK says the trial is a landmark and has the potential to help millions of patients. The findings of the trial, which was conducted by the universities of Newcastle and Glasgow in the UK, were published in The Lancet and presented at the International Diabetes Federation.

Slimming pills bought online can cause serious health problems, says medicines watchdog

05/12/2017

People who are overweight or obese will often do anything to help them lose weight and that includes taking food supplements, slimming teas and other so-called weight loss drugs. But now the UK’s medicines watchdog has issued a warning against the use of slimming pills bought online as they can cause serious health problems. A survey of 1,800 slimmers by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Slimming World found that one in three had bought weight loss pills online and two-thirds had experienced side-effects. When quizzed about why they had purchased such drugs online, 40% said it was because they had not wanted to speak to a GP or pharmacist. Some of the side-effects associated with slimming bills bought online include heart problems, blurred vision and diarrhoea. Some even contain banned ingredients. The MHRS has stressed that people should always go to their GPs for advice in the first instance. As part of its #FakeMeds campaign, the agency has also warned that buying from websites also increases the risk of being ripped off or having their identity stolen. MHRA senior policy manager Lynda Scammell said: "Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death. "It's essential you know what you're buying online and what the risks are. "If you don't, your weight could end up being the least of your worries."

Over a third of mothers experience mental health issues

30/11/2017

More than a third of mothers have experienced a mental health issue related to parenthood, an online survey has found. According to the YouGov poll of 1,800 British parents, in comparison, just 17% of fathers had experienced similar parenthood-related issues. Of the mothers who experienced a mental health issue, more than two-thirds sought professional help as a result. Their conditions included acute stress, severe anxiety and postpartum depression. One of the biggest factors that weighs on the minds of new mums is criticism. Of those surveyed, 26% said their parents were the most critical of their parenting skills, followed by 24% who cited their spouse/partner and 18% other family members. Quite shockingly, 14% said they had been criticised by complete strangers. In comparison, 5% of the 800 fathers said the same. Trouble at work is also not uncommon for new parents. About 30% of mothers who responded said they had felt discriminated against at work because they were a parent, compared with 14% of working fathers. In terms of emotional support, 60% of women said they had received it from their friends, 56% from their partner and 18% went online. However, 15% of mothers and 25% of fathers say they didn't receive any emotional support at all. If nothing else, the survey highlights the struggles many mothers and fathers go through following the birth of a child. Support is crucial in helping these parents get through such difficult times. 

NHS to employ 'good guy' hackers to help boost cyber defences

28/11/2017

In a world where insufficient digital defences can see your business defamed, robbed, taken offline or even held to ransom, organisations absolutely must ensure their IT security is up to scratch. And, when it comes to cyber security, few businesses have as much to lose as healthcare providers. Not only could poor cyber security lead to patients’ records being compromised, but it could also jeopardise their care if certain systems were impacted. It’s no surprise then that the health service in England, the NHS, is looking to bolster its cyber defences in light of the numerous high-profile cyber-attacks that have occurred in recent time. However, the way in which the health service plans on doing it might come as a surprise. That’s because the NHS is looking to spend £20 million setting up a security operations centre and will also employ so-called ethical hackers to help proactively identify weaknesses in its security systems. Earlier this year, in May, one-third of UK health trusts were hit by the WannaCry worm, which demanded a ransom be paid to unlock infected PCs. In a statement, Dan Taylor, head of the data security centre at NHS Digital, said the NHS would be covered by a “near-real-time monitoring and alerting service that covers the whole health and care system”. The security operations centre would also help the NHS improve its “ability to anticipate future vulnerabilities while supporting health and care in remediating current known threats”, he said.

Breast cancer screening should be more frequent for overweight women

22/11/2017

Overweight or obese women may not detect cancerous breast lumps until they are much larger and more difficult to treat, a Swedish study has found. Researchers from the Karolinksa Institute studied more than 2,000 women who developed breast cancer between 2001 and 2008, all of who had been receiving mammograms every 18 months to two years, as is standard in Sweden. They found that women with higher body mass indexes (BMIs) were more likely to have a larger tumour when detected than women who were slimmer. Lead author of the study, Fredrik Strand, said this was either because the tumours were harder to detect because overweight women have larger breasts or because their tumours grew faster. Women who are overweight are already at greater risk of developing breast cancer and, unfortunately, larger tumours carry a worse prognosis. Therefore, these women may need more frequent mammograms to help spot tumours early, say the researchers. Women who are judged to be at greater risk of developing breast cancer – such as those with a family history – are already offered more frequent screening. Speaking about the findings of the study, Strand said: “Our study suggests that when a clinician presents the pros and cons of breast cancer screening to the patient, having high BMI should be an important 'pro' argument”.

Risk of stillbirth is double in women who sleep on their backs

21/11/2017

A study of more than 1,000 women in the UK has found the risk of having a stillbirth is doubled if expectant mothers sleep on their backs during the third trimester of their pregnancies. For the study, the researchers analysed 291 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth and 735 that resulted in a live birth. Their findings were published Monday in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Echoing findings from smaller studies conducted in New Zealand and Australia, the recent study found that women sleeping on their backs had 2.3 times the risk of stillbirth. Interestingly, according to the researchers, the position women fall asleep in is most important and pregnant mothers should not worry if they are on their backs when they awake. Approximately one in 225 pregnancies in the UK ends in stillbirth. The study authors estimate that about 130 babies' lives a year could be saved if women followed the advice to sleep on their sides instead of their backs. Prof. Alexander Heazell, clinical director at the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, who led the research, said women in the third trimester of their pregnancies should sleep on their side for any episode of sleep, including daytime naps. While researchers can’t say for certain why the risk of stillbirth is increased when women go to sleep on their backs, there is a lot of data that suggests it’s due to the combined weight of the baby and womb putting pressure on blood vessels. This can lead to blood and oxygen being restricted to the baby.

Indulgent grandparents could be damaging their grandchildren's health

16/11/2017

It’s natural for grandparents to dote on their grandchildren and give them sweet treats whenever they see them. But new research suggests this and other influences could have a negative impact on their grandchildren’s health. For the research, the team from the University of Glasgow analysed 56 different studies which included data from 18 countries, including the UK, US, China and Japan. They focused on the influence of grandparents who were significant in their grandchildren’s lives, but who weren’t necessarily primary caregivers. Three areas of influence were considered: diet and weight, physical activity and smoking. When it came to their grandchildren’s diet and weight, grandparents were found to have an adverse impact, with many studies highlighting how they feed their grandchildren high-sugar or high-fat foods - often in the guise of a treat. The researchers also found that grandchildren were perceived to get too little exercise while under the supervision of their grandparents. However, this did depend on whether the grandparents were physically active themselves or not. Furthermore, smoking around grandchildren became an area of conflict between parents and grandparents, with the latter often smoking while their grandchildren were present, even though they had been asked not to. Talking about the findings of the study, lead researcher Dr Stephanie Chambers said: "While the results of this review are clear that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly treating children increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood, it is also clear from the evidence that these risks are unintentional. "Given that many parents now rely on grandparents for care, the mixed messages about health that children might be getting is perhaps an important discussion that needs to be had."

Daytime wounds heal more quickly than night-time ones

14/11/2017

Wounds that occur during daylight hours heal faster than wounds that occur after dark, a new study has found. The research discovered that burns sustained at night took, on average, 28 days to heal, while burns that occurred during the day only took 17 days. In fact, the team from the UK's MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which carried out the research, said the healing difference between daytime burns and night time burns was astounding. Publishing the findings of their research in Science Translational Medicine, the team of scientists said the difference in healing times was down to the way the human body clock ticks inside nearly every human cell over a 24-hour period. Specifically, fibroblasts, which are the body’s first responders that immediately head to a wound, are primed and ready to go during the daytime. However, at night, they lose this ability. It’s thought the research could lead to improvements in surgical procedures in the future. For example, drugs that reset a patient’s body clock could provide additional benefits during night-time procedures. Dr John O'Neill, one of the researchers, likened the way in which fibroblasts work to a running race: "It is like the 100m. The sprinter down on the blocks, poised and ready to go, is always going to beat the guy going from a standing start,” he said.

Malaria breath test could provide cheaper, non-invasive diagnoses

09/11/2017

A breath test that can detect whether someone has malaria is showing signs of promise in parts of Africa where it’s being trialled. The crude prototype picks up on distinctive “breath prints” that people with the mosquito-borne disease have. During a trial involving children in Malawi, in south-eastern Africa, the breath test had a success rate of 83%. While that’s not high enough for the test to be routinely used at present, it is very promising and suggests the test could be developed further into an off-the-shelf product. According to the team of scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo, who developed the breath test, individuals with malaria have six unique compounds in their breath. These compounds are what the breath test looks out for. Once refined and able to detect malaria with greater accuracy, the breath test could provide a cheaper, non-invasive method for determining whether someone has the disease. Talking about the promising signs displayed by the breath test, Prof James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "The rapid detection of asymptomatic malaria is a challenge for malaria control and will be essential as we move towards achieving the goal of malaria elimination. A new diagnostic tool, based on the detection of volatiles associated with malaria infection is exciting." According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 212 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide in 2015 and about 429,000 people died, many of them children.

Pancreatic cancer: would you know the warning signs?

07/11/2017

A leading UK-based cancer charity has warned that many people could be missing the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer and not receiving treatment that could extend their lives as a result. Pancreatic Cancer UK says that as many as one in three adults could ignore the warning signs and symptoms of potential pancreatic cancer, simply because they don’t know what to look for. Indigestion, stomach ache, unexplained weight loss and faeces that float rather than sink in the toilet are all signs of the potentially deadly disease. At present, just one person in 10 survives longer than five years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Early detection and treatment are vital for saving lives. The charity’s survey of 4,000 people suggests many people take the symptoms for granted, with 35% of respondents saying they would not be anxious if they were suffering from a few of the signs of the disease. Speaking about the results of the survey, Pancreatic Cancer UK chief executive Alex Ford said: ““We must all be aware of the possible signs of pancreatic cancer, and of the devastating impact this disease can have, because 93% of people diagnosed will not live beyond five years”. Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include: stomach and back ache unexplained weight loss indigestion changes to bowel habits, including floating faeces Other symptoms include: loss of appetite jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) itchy skin feeling and being sick difficulty swallowing recently diagnosed diabetes

Just a few nights of bad sleep can impact your mental health

02/11/2017

The benefits of a full night’s sleep are well known. Insomniacs across the world will tell you what sleep deprivation can do to your mind and body. But now it seems that just a few nights of bad sleep could impact your mental health too. A team of scientists from the University of Oxford in the UK ran a small experiment using four volunteers who normally sleep just fine. The volunteers were fitted with monitors to track their sleep. For the first three nights of the study, they were allowed to sleep normally. For the next three nights, their sleep was restricted to just four hours per night. Each day of the study, the volunteers filled out questionnaires about how they were feeling and kept video diaries. Three out of the four volunteers said the experience was unpleasant, while one said he was largely unaffected. However, tests showed that his mood was significantly impacted, with positive emotions falling and negative emotions rising. Doctoral student Sarah Reeve, one of the scientists who ran the experiment, was surprised by how quickly the volunteers’ moods changed. "There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people", she said. "Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive."

Long-term aspirin use associated with significant reduction in colorectal cancer risk

31/10/2017

A new large-scale study has found that using aspirin long-term could slash the chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer. Of all the gastrointestinal cancers, which include pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, oesophageal cancer, stomach (or gastric) cancer and small intestine cancer, colorectal cancer is the most common in the western world. While there are a number of lifestyle changes people can make to reduce their risk of developing cancer, including avoiding tobacco, limiting their alcohol consumption, eating healthier and exercising more, an increasing number of studies suggest the use of aspiring could also help. For this latest study, Prof. Kelvin Tsoi, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and his team set out to investigate the effect of aspirin use on gastrointestinal cancers. Over a 10-year period, the team of scientists examined over 600,000 participants and analysed how aspirin use affected their chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer. They found that aspirin users were 47% less likely to have liver and oesophageal cancer, 38% less likely to have stomach cancer, 34% less likely to have pancreatic cancer and 24% less likely to have colorectal cancer. In addition, aspirin use also significantly reduced the risk of leukaemia, lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Rest not antibiotics, say health officials

26/10/2017

According to health officials at Public Health England, more patients should be advised to go home and get some rest, rather than be prescribed antibiotics. In fact, the health body says that up to a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and many conditions get better on their own. Overusing antibiotics runs the risk of bugs developing an immunity to certain drugs and developing into so-called superbugs in the future, which cannot be treated with current medicines. While antibiotics are, of course, vital for treating sepsis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and other severe infections, they are not essential for every illness. For example, common coughs and bronchitis can take up to three weeks to clear on their own and antibiotics only reduce that timeframe by literally a few days. Prof Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, told the BBC: "We don't often need antibiotics for common conditions. "The majority of us will get infections from time to time and will recover because of our own immunity." He said patients should not go to their doctor "expecting an antibiotic". So don’t be surprised if your doctor isn’t quick to prescribe you antibiotics the next time you’ve got a cough or a cold. They will actually be doing you a favour in the long-run and helping to prevent the rise of drug-resistant superbugs that we all should be concerned about.

NHS England looking to crack down on health tourism

24/10/2017

In a step designed to help save the NHS in England money, providers of treatment are now required to make sure patients are eligible for free care before they receive it. If they aren’t, healthcare providers will ask them to pay upfront. It is hoped the measures, which will only apply to planned, non-emergency care, will contribute to £22bn of savings needed in the NHS. Accident and emergency (A&E), general practice and infectious disease treatment will remain free to all. Once the new measures are in place, patients will be asked where they have lived over the past six months. If they have lived abroad, they will be required to prove they are eligible for free treatment on the NHS, by showing a non-UK European Health Insurance Card or similar. Speaking about the proposed changes, Health Minister Lord O'Shaughnessy said: “We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS as long as they make a fair financial contribution, just as the British taxpayer does. “The new regulations simply require NHS bodies to make enquiries about, and then charge, those who aren't entitled to free NHS care.” However, the British Medical Association has warned that the changes could prevent vulnerable individuals from getting treatment they need. 

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”.

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