Tiny microphones could provide invaluable insights into a person’s knee health, a new study suggests. According to researchers, arthritic knees are ‘noisy’ and emit telltale sounds - but sounds that can only be heard by microphones. The waveforms emitted by the noisy knees can then be analysed by computers to provide insights into the health of the knee. The researchers say the technology – similar to the kind used by engineers to listen for faults in bridges - can be used to better diagnose conditions like osteoarthritis and help develop better treatments as a result. For the study - conducted by a team from Lancaster University, the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester University – patients with osteoarthritis were asked to stand up and down five times, while acoustic signals from their knees were captured by the microphones. The theory behind the trial is that knees which are functioning normally should act like smooth and well-lubricated engineering structures, emitting very little in the way of noise. In comparison, rough and poorly-lubricated surfaces (arthritic knees) would generate acoustic signals. The trial found that the microphone technique could distinguish between the two different types of knee, thus offering a solution that did not involve an X-ray. Publishing its findings in the journal PLOS ONE, the research team said the more noisy the knee, the more severe the osteoarthritis. However, they did admit that more research and larger-scale trials are needed so the technique can be developed further.
A cost effective and widely available drug could help save hundreds of thousands of lives each year if it was given to patients brought into hospitals with head injuries, a new study has found. The drug, tranexamic acid, helps stop bleeding in and around the brain, arresting damage that can occur post-trauma. It’s already approved for clinical use and is routinely taken to prevent internal bleeding in other parts of the body following trauma, as well as women with dangerous bleeding after childbirth. According to the study published in The Lancet, if given early enough, tranexamic acid can improve patient survival rates. While it cannot reverse trauma damage, it can prevent a small bleed becoming worse. The team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) tested tranexamic acid on almost 13,000 patients. They found that if given within three hours of a head trauma, the number of fatalities was reduced by as much as 20%. Furthermore, tranexamic acid is a cost effective treatment, with a course in the UK costing around £6.20 (7.09 euros) per patient. Speaking about the findings of the trial, one of the lead investigators, Prof Haleema Shakur, from the LSHTM, said: “The results are just amazing. It's the first trial to ever show that a [medical] treatment can reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury patients dying. “This is the first time that we have seen a beneficial effect. It will have huge implications worldwide. “It's a widely available drug, it's relatively cheap and it's really simple to give.”
Lycopene - a natural pigment that gives red fruits and vegetables their colour - is an antioxidant that protects against cell damage, and tomatoes contain plenty of it. In fact, it is estimated that tomatoes account for 80% of the lycopene in the US diet. Now, a new study suggests Lycopene may also help boost sperm quality. According to the research by a team at the University of Sheffield, healthy men who consumed the equivalent of two tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree each day were found to have better quality sperm. During the 12-week trial, 60 men were randomly selected to take 14mg of lactolycopene supplement each day. The reason a supplement was used is because the participants would have had to eat 2kg of tomatoes each day to obtain an equivalent dose of lycopene. The participants’ sperm was tested before, during and after the trial. While there was no difference in sperm concentration, the men who had been taking the lycopene had healthier and faster sperm. Encouraged by the results, the researchers now want to expand the trial to include more men and see if the findings are the same. Lycopene has also been previously linked to other health benefits, including a lowered risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Male breast cancer is pretty rare. In fact, it accounts for just 1% of all breast cancer cases. That’s why very few studies have looked at what factors can lead to more positive outcomes for patients. To address this reality, researchers from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have conducted one of the largest male breast cancer studies to date, the findings of which are published in the journal Cancer. The researchers found that 51% of male breast cancer diagnoses occurred between the ages of 50 and 69, and that the average age of diagnosis was 64. In fact, only 15% of the patients were diagnosed before the age of 50. Interestingly, the study authors found that black men, older patients, individuals with other ongoing health issue and those with higher tumor grade and stage had poorer prognoses. Furthermore, they found that patients who underwent a full mastectomy also had poorer outcomes. The prognosis was better for patients who lived in wealthier areas, whose tumors carried the progesterone receptor and men who received radiation therapy, chemotherapy or anti-estrogen therapy. While female breast cancer treatment has improved dramatically over the years, the study authors say it is unclear whether these advancements have been applied to the management of male breast cancer too. Two of the reasons for this are because male breast cancer usually occurs later in life and it commonly spreads to the person’s lymph nodes. The researchers hope their paper will shine some more light on this little known condition and lead to better outcomes for patients going forward.
A new study has found that if people with type-2 diabetes achieve just 10% weight loss within 5 years of being diagnosed, they are twice as likely to experience remission at the 5-year follow-up as those who haven’t lost any weight. The findings of the study by researchers from Cambridge appear in the journal Diabetic Medicine and were obtained through analysis of 867 people aged 40-69 with newly diagnosed type-2 diabetes. Having followed the study participants for 5 years, the researchers found that 257 (30%) had diabetes in remission. Speaking about their findings, first author Hajira Dambha-Miller, Ph.D. said: “Our results suggest that it may be possible to get rid of diabetes, for at least 5 years, with a more modest weight loss of 10%. This will be more motivating and hence more achievable for many people.” The fact diabetes can be sent into remission with just moderate weight loss – and not just the drastic intensive weight loss measures we’ve known about for some time - will be welcome news for many people living with the condition. It reinforces the importance of managing one’s weight through dietary choices and physical exercise. Going forward, the Cambridge team hopes to be able to use the research to help medical professionals better support patients with type-2 diabetes and reduce their symptoms.
Some species of bacteria are stripping off their outer layers in an attempt to evade antibiotics and survive. It’s a reality that could explain why some infections keep coming back. According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the bacteria are “undressing” and removing their cell walls – the very part of them that some antibiotics target. The cell walls of some bacteria are made from sugars and amino acids. While they give the bacteria shape and protection, these walls provide a weak spot that can be exploited by antibiotics. Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be discovered and the most widely used in the world, works by disrupting the cell wall and causing the bacteria to burst. The study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, found that bacteria associated with recurring urinary tract infections in elderly patients slipped out of their cell walls to avoid the effect of the antibiotics. It’s the first time that research has shown bacteria using this method to survive antibiotic treatment and while not all survive – most get taken care of by the body’s immune system - it does offer some explanation as to why certain infections come back again and again. The discovery could pave the way for new treatments to be developed, including combination therapies that target both the bacteria’s cell wall and inner workings.
Gum disease is linked to an increased risk of hypertension, a new study has found. Furthermore, the more sever the gum disease, the greater a person’s risk of high blood pressure. The research by University College London's Eastman Dental Institute – the findings of which appear in the journal Cardiovascular Research – shows people with periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease) have a higher risk of hypertension. Hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects 32% of all American adults, and as many as 47.2% of people aged over 30 have some form of gum disease, which is why the new research is so intriguing. While the two conditions may appear to be completely unrelated, the new research shows otherwise. And when you consider that high blood pressure is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, affecting up to 45% of adults, the findings of the study could result in much more attention being paid to combatting gum disease going forward. Specifically, the research revealed an association between moderate-to-severe periodontitis and a 22% higher risk of hypertension, Moreover, severe periodontitis was linked to a 49% higher risk of hypertension. Speaking about the findings of their research, senior author Prof. Francesco D'Aiuto, from the University College London Eastman Dental Institute in the United Kingdom, said: “Previous research suggests a connection between periodontitis and hypertension and that dental treatment might improve blood pressure, but to date, the findings are inconclusive. “Hypertension could be the driver of heart attack and stroke in patients with periodontitis,” he added.
A new tumour-agnostic drug has been approved for use in Europe. The revolutionary drug, experts say, has the potential to cure more cancer patients and reduce side-effects. Called larotrectinib, the new drug does not care where the cancer is growing in the body and instead looks for a specific genetic abnormality, which means it can be used to treat a wide range of tumours. Doctors in the UK have said the new drug is “a really exciting thing” and marks a move away from having ‘drugs that treat breast cancer’, ‘drugs that treat bowel cancer’ and ‘drugs that treat lung cancer’, to having drugs that target the genetic make-up of each patient’s tumour. However, the decision by European regulators does not mean that any cancer patient can take advantage of larotrectinib right away. Its approval for use right now only applies to patients with solid tumours that have been caused by a genetic abnormality known as an NTRK gene fusion. This rare abnormality happens when part of an individual’s DNA accidentally merges with another, leading to an alteration in the body’s blueprint that allows cancer to grow. Speaking about the drug development, Dr Julia Chisholm, a children's cancer consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “It is a really exciting thing, as is it works across a range of cancers. It's not confined to one.”
The method via which a baby is born has a dramatic impact on its gut bacteria and could explain why babies born by Caesarean section are more likely to experience health problems later in life, a new study has found. The study by Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, and the University of Birmingham – the largest of its kind – looked at babies’ microbiomes (the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our guts) to see if they formed differently depending on how a baby was born. For the research, samples were taken on a regular basis from the nappies of 600 babies in their first month of life. The results showed that vaginally born babies got most of their first bacteria from their mothers. However, babies born via Caesarean section showed high levels of hospital bugs, with some having as much as 30% of their total microbiomes made up by such bugs. It’s a reality that could explain why babies born by Caesarean section are more susceptible to certain conditions when they are older, like allergies, asthma and type 1 diabetes. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Trevor Lawley, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “What surprised me and scared me was the amount of healthcare bugs showing up in these children. “But what excites me is we have an amazing body of data now that we can build on, to think about how to properly establish the human ecosystem, starting at birth.”
A team of international scientists has discovered that a drug usually used to treat enlarged prostates may be beneficial in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. The drug, Terazosin, helps ease the discomfort associated with an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH) by relaxing muscles in the prostate and part of the bladder. This helps relieve symptoms like difficulty in beginning to urinate and needing to urinate frequently or urgently. Now, researchers believe it may also help slow the progression of Parkinson’s by protecting brain cells from being damaged – something that is not possible at present. For the research, the team of scientists studied thousands of patients with both BPH and Parkinson's disease. They found that Terazosin boosted energy production in brain cells and slow neurodegeneration. It does this by activating an enzyme called PGK1. Publishing their findings online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists said that while it was too premature to talk about a cure for Parkinson’s, their research was ‘exciting’ and could have the potential to change the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease going forward. Because Terazosin is already approved for use in patients with enlarged prostates, getting it repurposed as a Parkinson’s drug also shouldn’t be a problem.
A new way of cooling human livers could significantly extend the time they can be kept ahead of an organ transplant By supercooling livers to -4C, researchers have been able to triple their viable lifespan to more than one day. It could revolutionise the way organs are stored in the future and allow even more people to benefit from transplants. The team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School pioneered the technology using rats’ livers five years ago. The tiny livers were supercooled, while nutrients and oxygen were pumped around their blood vessels. But developing the technique to work with human organs wasn’t without its challenges. Because they are much larger, human livers are at greater risk of ice crystals forming, which can rupture cells and kill tissue. To overcome this, the researchers used protective agents to prevent the livers from freezing. As a result, they were able to extend their viable lifespans to 27 hours – a significant increase on the current nine hours when organs are stored on ice. Once brought back up to temperature, the livers were found to function normally and also responded as expected when connected to an artificial blood supply. One of the researchers, Dr Reinier de Vries, said: “This is a big breakthrough in organ preservation. “This is the first time that we actually show that it is feasible to preserve human organs at sub-zero temperatures.”
Simple educational and motivational text messages can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar better, a new study has found. It is not only an extremely affordable and scalable measure, but one that can be applied globally. According to the six-month Chinese study, diabetes patients who received the text messages and standard care reduced their glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c ) by more than patients who just received standard care. The results showed an average reduction in HbA1c of 2 mmol/mol (0.2%) in patients who received the supportive text messages. The group that did not receive the text messages experienced an average increase in HbA1c of 1 moll/mol (0.1%). For the study, the participants were split into two groups: one that received standard diabetes care and two text messages each month thanking them for their participation, and another group that received standard care and up to six text messages per week containing information on subjects like dietary advice, physical activity, emotional support and blood glucose monitoring. As well as actually reducing their HbA1c, the group receiving the supportive text messages also had a greater proportion of patients who achieved their HbA1C target of less than 7% (69.3% vs. 52.6% in the control group). Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Xiqian Huo, of Beijing's Fuwai Hospital, said: “Lifestyle advice such as strict dietary control may have contributed to glycemic improvements, together with reminders to monitor blood glucose regularly. The messages were designed to provide information and motivation, and help patients set goals and manage stress.” The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology on Saturday, August 31 also appear in journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
Cancer has surpassed cardiovascular disease as the biggest killer of middle-aged people in higher-income nations, a study suggests. Globally, stroke and heart problems are the leading causes of death among this age group. But the findings of this latest research led by a team from Canada's McMaster University shows that middle-aged people in rich nations are 2.5 times more likely to die of cancer than cardiovascular disease. In contrast, people in poor countries are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The study, published in The Lancet, is drawn from a global research program, the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) study, involving 160,000 people from 21 different countries. While cardiovascular disease accounted for more than 40% of deaths in middle- and low-income countries, it only accounted for less than a quarter in richer nations. The researchers say this could be due to people living in richer countries receiving more medication and support. Speaking about the findings of the research, Gilles Dagenais, a professor at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada who co-led the work, said: “Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26% of all deaths. But as (heart disease) rates continue to fall, cancer could likely become the leading cause of death worldwide, within just a few decades.”
Drinking red wine (in moderation) could be good for your gut, according to researchers from the UK. The team from King’s College London says red wine contains compounds that help increase the number of different types of bacteria that live in the gut. The micronutrients, known as polyphenols, are more abundant in red wine vs. beer, cider and white wine, and act as fuel for microbes living inside the bowel. Polyphenols are found in many fruits and vegetables, including the grapes used to make red wine. The researchers say even just one glass of red wine a fortnight can make a difference, but warn that their findings should not be used as an excuse to binge drink. Publishing its research in the journal Gastroenterology, the team said the “friendly” bugs in our gut help keep us healthy. Even small changes in our gut microbiota – the community of bugs that live there – can make us more susceptible to conditions like obesity, heart disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The gut microbiota of people who drink red wine was found to be more diverse than that of those who do not drink wine. Furthermore, the more wed wine consumed, the greater the levels of diversity – although it’s important to note that nobody involved in the trial was a heavy drinker. Speaking about the findings of their research, Dr Caroline Le Roy said: “If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease.”
A pill that contains four different medicines and is designed to be taken daily could dramatically reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found. The polypill – which is the generic term used to describe a medication that contains multiple active pharmaceutical ingredients – contains aspirin, a cholesterol-lowering statin and two drugs to reduce blood pressure. For the study, researchers from Iran and the UK studied around 6,800 people from more than 100 villages in Iran. Half were given the polypill and advice on how to improve their health through lifestyle changes and the other half were just given the lifestyle changes advice. After five years, the group taking the polypill had experienced 202 cardiovascular events, while the group that had just been given the advice had experienced 301 cardiovascular events. In other words, the group taking the polypill had experienced around a third less cardiovascular events. The researchers say the pill costs just pennies a day, but could have a huge impact, especially in poorer countries where doctors have fewer options available to them. Stroke and coronary heart disease are the top two causes of death worldwide, killing more than 15 million people each year. Obesity, smoking and doing little exercise are all risk factors associated with an unhealthy heart. Based on the findings of the study, if 35 people were all given the polypill daily, it would prevent one of them developing a major heart problem within 5 years. “Given the polypill's affordability, there is considerable potential to improve cardiovascular health and to prevent the world's leading cause of death,” said Dr Nizal Sarrafzadegan, of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran. The findings of the research are published in The Lancet.
Having high blood pressure before middle age may pose a risk to brain health in later life. According to a new study, the results of which are published in The Lancet Neurology, the “window of opportunity” to safeguard brain health runs from the mid-30s to the early-50s. And having high blood pressure in the 30s and 40s could lead to blood vessel damage and brain shrinkage. For the study, a team of researchers from UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology followed 500 people born in 1946. Throughout the study, participants had their blood pressure measured and had brain scans. The researchers found that blood pressure increases between the ages of 36 and 43 were linked to brain shrinkage. Moreover, blood pressure increases between 43 and 53 were associated with blood vessel damage or “mini strokes” when people reach their 70s. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “High blood pressure in midlife is one of the strongest lifestyle risk factors for dementia, and one that is in our control to easily monitor and manage. “Research is already suggesting that more aggressive treatment of high blood pressure in recent years could be improving the brain health of today's older generations. “We must continue to build on this insight by detecting and managing high blood pressure even for those in early midlife.”
People with type-2 diabetes get no benefit from taking omega-3 fish oil supplements, a new study has found. According to researchers from the University of East Anglia, while omega-3 supplements are not harmful for people with type-2 diabetes (this has been a concern previously), they don’t provide any benefit either. This contradicts a common belief that omega-3 can protect against diabetes and even reverse the condition. The study, which involved 58,000 participants, found that people who consumed more omega-3 had the same risk of developing diabetes as individuals who did not. Furthermore, taking omega-3 fish oil did not influence levels of blood glucose, insulin and glycated haemoglobin - all measures of how the body handles sugar. ‘Better to eat fish’ Douglas Twenefour, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK, said: “Eating a healthy, varied diet is incredibly important, and we know that certain foods - including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, yoghurt and cheese - can help to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. “While omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for our overall health, it's generally better for people with type 2 diabetes to get their intake by eating at least two portions of oily fish a week, than by taking supplements." The advice from Dr Lee Hooper, who led the research, is to forego the expensive omega-3 supplements and instead buy oily fish and/or spend your money on physical activity, which will have more of a positive impact when it comes to type-2 diabetes.
It’s widely accepted that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial to a person’s health. But now a new study has firmly and scientifically concluded that eating foods that are rich in flavonoids (like fruits and vegetables) could stave off disease and extend life. According to research by a group of scientists from Edith Cowan University, Australia, people who eat 500mg of flavonoids every day have the lowest risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease-related deaths. So how much do you need to eat to reap these benefits? Well, the scientists say it is important to get the flavonoids from a variety of sources. They say someone can achieve the 500mg of total flavonoids by consuming one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g of blueberries and 100g of broccoli. Interestingly, the study of more than 50,000 adults found that the benefits of consuming 500mg of flavonoids daily were most pronounced in people who smoke and drink more than two alcoholic beverages every day. However, the scientists were quick to point out that consuming flavonoids does not enough to undo the harmful effects of smoking and high alcohol consumption. The study also found that consuming more than 500mg of flavonoids daily was not associated with any additional benefits. The paper appears in the journal Natural Communications.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bone quality and density to decline over time. As a result, people with osteoporosis are at greater risk of fracturing bones. And it’s often not until a fracture occurs that an individual realises they have osteoporosis. That’s because the disease affects bones silently and progressively, with few symptoms. Following a fracture, osteoporosis patients are often prescribed medication to help support their bone health. Common osteoporosis drugs include etidronate and nitrogen bisphosphonates (usually alendronate and risedronate). Now, new research has revealed just how effective these drugs are. According to two different studies conducted by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia, osteoporosis drugs not only reduce the risk of further fractures, but also decrease a person’s risk of premature death. In the first study, the research team analysed data relating to over 6,000 osteoporosis patients aged 50 and over. They found that people taking alendronate had a 34% lower risk of premature death. For the second study, the researchers looked specifically at how nitrogen bisphosphonates impact bone loss and mortality risk in women aged 50 and over. They found that patients who took nitrogen bisphosphonates had both a lower rate of bone loss and a lower mortality risk. However, the studies also revealed that many osteoporosis patients do not follow their drug prescriptions and neglect to take the necessary drugs. Speaking about the findings of the two trials, lead author Dana Bliuc, Ph.D. said: “For many individuals with osteoporosis, bone health isn't front-of-mind. We hope our study results will encourage people with osteoporosis or at risk of a fracture to seek treatment — and commit to taking it.” So the advice is clear: if you have been prescribed osteoporosis drugs, make sure you take them as directed.
While exercise has long been thought to help boost mental health and there’s evidence to support this, less is known about whether physical activity can actually prevent the onset of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Indeed, previous studies have suggested that low levels of physical activity are associated with a greater incidence of several common mental health problems, but few studies have investigated whether the opposite is true: more exercise = less risk of developing mental health disorders – until now. By conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of four different studies, the researchers from University College London were able to assess the impact of physical exercise on mental health risk. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the researchers said low and medium levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with a 47% and 23% greater risk of common mental health disorders, compared with high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness. In other words, doing more physical exercise does seem to have a positive impact on a person's mental health risk. The research makes for interesting reading when you consider that mental health issues are growing and not everyone benefits from therapies and medication. The researchers are now planning to explore this avenue further to see if they can identify the underlying mechanisms of the relationship between exercise and mental health.
Eating chocolate makes us feel good, right? But is there actually any evidence that it can combat conditions like depression? Well, a new survey-based study of over 13,000 people suggests there is, but only if you eat dark chocolate. Having analysed data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers concluded that there was no link between eating dark chocolate and a reduction in depressive symptoms. However, when they looked specifically at dark chocolate consumption, they found people who ate this type of chocolate were 70% less likely to report depressive symptoms than individuals who ate no chocolate at all. Furthermore, the analysis also showed that people who ate the most chocolate (regardless of type) were less likely to experience depression than people who ate no chocolate. While chocolate lovers might rejoice at these findings, more research is needed. That’s because the study is merely observational, so no causational conclusions can be drawn. If subsequent research is performed and does suggest that a link exists between eating chocolate and a lower risk of depression, the biological reasons why will need to be investigated. For now, if you’re a fan of dark chocolate in moderation, you could be reducing your chances of developing depression.
A new mobile phone app that helps speed up the detection of a potentially fatal kidney condition has been described as a “potential lifesaver” by hospital staff. The app, known as Streams, is able to detect acute kidney injury in 14 minutes (on average). Until now, this process would have taken at least several hours. This is highly significant as acute kidney injury can begin to affect other organs if it is not treated quickly. One in five people who are admitted to hospital develop acute kidney injury and it leads to around 100,000 deaths in the UK each year. The app works by looking for a waste product called creatinine, something that is normally filtered out by a person’s kidneys. It then sends warning signals to front-line clinicians’ phones if a patient’s blood tests indicate they have acute kidney failure. Streams was developed by the Royal Free Hospital in London and technology firm DeepMind, which is owned by Alphabet. Speaking to the BBC, Mary Emerson, lead nurse specialist at the Royal Free Hospital, said: “It's a huge change to be able to receive alerts about patients anywhere in the hospital. Healthcare is mobile and real time, and this is the first device that has enabled me to see results in a mobile real-time way.” The findings of the app trial are published in the journal Nature Digital Medicine.
New research suggests that tickling the ear with a small electric current could help rebalance the body’s nervous system in people over-55 and help them age more healthily. The therapy works by stimulating the vagus nerve, the longest of the nerves that connect the brain with other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs and gut. The vagus nerve is usually difficult to access and usually requires surgical intervention so that electric stimuli can be delivered. However, one small branch of the vagus nerve reaches a part of the outer ear and that’s where the researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow — both in the United Kingdom – stimulated it from. Patients who received the electric stimuli for 15 minutes a day over a 14-day period noted improvements in body, sleep and mood. As we age, our body’s nervous system gradually becomes out of balance and the sympathetic branch begins to dominate. This makes us more prone to diseases, such as hypertension and heart problems, as well as anxiety and depression. The researchers found that the electric ear tickling therapy – named so because that’s how it feels – helped rebalance the body’s nervous system by increasing parasympathetic activity and decreasing sympathetic activity. People with the greatest imbalance at the start of the trial showed the biggest improvement at the end.
By adding just a handful of nuts to their daily diet, men could improve their sexual function, a study suggests. The 14-week trial, which involved 83 men split into two groups, found that adding 60 grams of almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts to a Western-style diet benefitted sexual function. Reporting their findings in the journal Nutrients, the authors of the study said the group of men who ate the extra nuts each day showed significant increases in two measures of erectile and sexual function: orgasmic function and sexual desire. A previous analysis of the trial data in 2018 yielded signs that eating more nuts also improves sperm quality. “Including nuts in a regular diet significantly improved auto-reported orgasmic function and sexual desire,” the Spanish researchers concluded. They are now calling for further, large-scale studies to determine the effect of eating nuts on sexual function – especially as separate research found that consuming pistachios helped improve erectile function. The theory is that pistachios, like many other nuts, contain antioxidants and arginine, a powerful compound that increases vasodilatation. So, if you are not easily able to follow a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit, vegetables and nuts, you could still reap some of the sexual function rewards by adding just a handful of nuts to your daily diet.
If you’re looking to lose some weight, eating earlier in the day and intermittently fasting could help, new research suggests. According to a paper published in the journal Obesity, the timing of meals and intermittent fasting influences metabolism, which can have an impact on weight loss. Researchers discovered this following a trial involving 11 men and women, all of who were in good health, aged between 25 and 45 years and carrying some excess weight. The trial participants were split into two groups: one who ate breakfast at 08:00 and then ate their last meal of the day at 14:00, and another who ate breakfast at 08:00 and had their last meal of the day at 20:00. Both groups ate the same meals each day. At the end of the trial, participants underwent a battery of tests in a respiratory chamber to assess their metabolism. The number of calories, fat, carbohydrates and proteins burned were all measured. It was revealed that the participants who ate their last meal of the day at 14:00 and, therefore, fasted longer overnight, burned more fat than the other group. They also had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. “Eating in sync with circadian rhythms by eating early in the daytime appears to reduce body weight and improve metabolic health,” the authors of the paper wrote.
Most people feel nervous ahead of surgery, even if the procedure they’re about to undergo is straightforward. To calm these nerves, patients are often given medication. But a new study suggests that music could be just as effective. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, a special song written to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate performed as well as a sedative for calming patients ahead of surgery. For the trial, 157 surgery patients were either given the drug midazolam or play the so-called “world’s most relaxing song”, Weightless by UK band Marconi Union, while they were being given an anaesthetic to numb a part of their body. Patient anxiety was equally reduced in both groups, suggesting the music was an effective alternative to the drugs. The great news about this is the music medicine is both free and completely safe, whereas the drugs cost money and can have side effects. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Veena Graff, assistant professor of anaesthesiology and critical care at the University Of Pennsylvania Perelman School Of Medicine, said: “Music lights up the emotional area of the brain, the reward system and the pleasure pathways. “It means patients can be in their own world, they can be comfortable and have full control.” Intrigued what the world’s most relaxing song sounds like? Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JNM-xPZXgI
Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects more women than men. And while the exact reasons for this have always been unclear, it has been suggested that this is because women tend to live longer. In the UK alone, there are approximately 500,000 women with Alzheimer’s, compared to 350,000 men. But now new research presented at an international conference suggests that differences in brain connectivity and sex-specific genes could explain why women are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s than men. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, the two separate pieces of research – one from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre and the other from the University of Miami – could lead The Vanderbilt University Medical Centre study looked at proteins called tau and amyloid in the brain, which can cause brain cells to die. It found that women’s brains had better connectivity between the regions where tau protein builds up and this can lead to faster cognitive decline. The University of Miami study found that genetics could play a part, with genes found only in women presenting a specific dementia risk. Speaking about the University of Miami research, Dr Jana Voigt, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “We don't yet know why certain genes are linked with Alzheimer's risk in one sex and not the other - but unravelling this could provide some answers as to why more women are living with dementia than men.”
Even if you’ve been pretty physically inactive for much of your life, exercising more in your later years can still afford benefits and lower your risk of premature death, a new study has found. According to research by the University of Cambridge - which studied 15,000 Brits - by doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, physically inactive individuals can reduce their risk of early death by 24%. However, it’s people who are already physically active who can benefit the most from more exercise. That’s because the study found that individuals who were already doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week could reduce their risk of early death by as much as 42%. Finally, all older adults involved in the study saw a “substantial” boost to their life expectancy by being more active – regardless of their activity levels previously. So, the simple message is clear: the more exercise, the better. And it’s never too late to make a difference in your life. Speaking about the findings of the study, the results of which are published in the British Medical Journal, Huw Edwards, from health body UKactive, said: “This provides further evidence against the outdated idea that people should do less as they age or while managing a long-term illness. “The time has come for a total rethink of how we approach our later years.”
Even though it’s widely accepted that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle, a new study suggests that people who abstain from drinking have the highest levels of wellbeing. And it’s women who stand to benefit the most from giving up the booze. According to the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), men and women who have abstained from drinking alcohol their whole lives had the highest levels of mental wellbeing at the start of the 5-year study. And for females who moderately consumed alcohol (fewer than seven alcoholic drinks per week), quitting was linked with a boost in mental health. Speaking about the findings of the study, Co-author Dr Michael Ni, a brain scientist at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed. Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life. “Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental wellbeing, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
A small study in the UK has found an unlikely ally in a strain of the common cold virus in the fight against bladder cancer. For the study, the findings of which appear in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, 15 patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer were intravenously given coxsackievirus (CVA21) ahead of scheduled surgery to remove their tumours. Post-surgery, when tissue samples were examined, there were signs the virus had targeted and killed cancer cells in the bladder. Furthermore, after the cancer cells had been killed, the virus reproduced and targeted other cancer cells. All other healthy cells were left intact. “The virus gets inside cancer cells and kills them by triggering an immune protein - and that leads to signalling of other immune cells to come and join the party,” said study leader Prof Hardev Pandha, from the University of Surrey and Royal Surrey County Hospital. The researchers from the University of Sussex who carried out the study said their findings could “help revolutionise treatment” for bladder cancer and reduce the risk of it recurring. Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK and affects around 10,000 new people every year. At present, treatments are either invasive, or cause toxic side effects. Moreover, constant, costly monitoring is required to ensure the cancer has not returned. Bladder cancer costs the NHS more per patient than any other cancer because of its high rate of recurrence.
A leading UK cancer charity has warned that obesity now causes more cases of four common cancers than smoking. According to Cancer Research UK, bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancers are more likely to be caused by being overweight than by smoking tobacco. The warning is particularly concerning as obese people outnumber smokers by two to one in the UK, which means millions of people are at risk of developing any of these cancers simply because they are overweight. Despite the fact that smoking remains the number one preventable cause of cancer in the UK and causes more cases of cancer than being overweight each year (54,300 vs. 22,800), for the four cancers previously mentioned, obesity causes more. However, Cancer Research UK’s latest billboard campaign highlighting the risks associated with being overweight has been accused of fat-shaming. And it’s not the first time the charity has been picked up for this either. Nevertheless, the charity remains adamant that outlining the risks of being overweight when it comes to cancer is an important step. Speaking about the Cancer Research UK warning, the British Medical Association said: “While we are very much aware of the health risks associated with smoking, less effort has been thrown behind tackling obesity, which is now a major cause of cancer.”
Postmenopausal women who have more fat on their legs and thighs have less risk of stroke or heart disease than their peers who carry fat around their stomach, a new study has found. As a result of the research, the findings of which appear in the European Heart Journal, scientists say women should aim to be more “pear-shaped” than “apple-shaped”. For the research, scientists followed 2,600 women with BMIs of between 187 and 25 for 18 years. The scientists found that the women who were apple-shaped i.e. had fat around their stomachs were more than three times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than the women who were pear-shaped i.e. had fat on their legs and thighs. It’s already known that fat stored in the visceral region (around the abdominal organs) can increase a person’s chances of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but the exact reasons why remain unknown. Further research is needed. The advice for women (and men) is to reduce the amount of fat they have stored around their stomachs. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study uncovers an interesting link between where fat is stored and your risk of heart attack and stroke, but can't tell us why it exists. “Future research to uncover how the distribution of body fat is related to these diseases could reveal important new ways to prevent and treat the world's biggest killer.”
We are frequently warned about the health consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle. But new research reveals that not all types of sitting are equally unhealthy. The study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found that sitting in front of a TV (known as ‘leisure-time sitting’) was associated with a greater risk of heart disease and death. In fact, study participants who watched four or more hours of TV a day were found to have a 50% greater risk of cardiovascular events and death compared to those who watched less than two hours a day. However, the study also found that participants who sat for long periods at work had the same level of risk as those who sat the least, suggesting the type of sitting really does have an impact. Furthermore, the study also revealed that even the most avid TV watchers could reverse the effects of their longer sedentary periods with moderate to rigorous exercise. For example, individuals who watched TV for four hours or more each day, and undertook 150 minutes or more exercise a week, had no increased risk of stroke, heart attack or death. Speaking about the findings of the study, Keith M. Diaz, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said: “It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently. The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”
New research shows that some drugs commonly prescribed for treating depression, epilepsy and other conditions may increase a person’s risk of dementia. The drugs, which belong to a family of medicines called anticholinergics, have previously been lined to short-term problems with thinking. According to the new study of patients in the UK, the findings of which are published in Jama Internal Medicine, using such drugs could lead to possible long-term brain side effects. However, experts are stressing that the study findings do not prove there is a direct risk and that patients already taking these drugs – literally millions of people in the UK - should not stop doing so. Anticholinergic drugs block the action of a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain which controls signals around the body. They are used to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, epilepsy, psychosis, overactive bladder, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and some allergies. For the study, researchers looked at nearly 300,000 patients (58,000 with dementia) and their use of medication going back more than 20 years. They found a strong link between the use of certain anticholinergic drugs – namely ones used to treat depression, Parkinson’s, psychosis, bladder conditions and epilepsy - and an increased risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 and over. Anticholinergic drugs used to treat asthma, muscle problems, heart rhythm issues and gastrointestinal problems were not found to pose a dementia risk. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Jana Voigt, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “There is a growing body of evidence that suggests certain anticholinergic drugs are linked to an increased dementia risk. “While finding a link between certain strong anticholinergic drugs and an increased risk of dementia, it doesn’t tell us if these drugs cause the condition.”
The humble garden snail could provide us with some ammunition in the fight against aggressive bacteria, according to two researchers from the United Kingdom. Intrigued how garden snails spend their lives sliding over dirt and coming into contact with deadly bacteria, yet don’t seem affected, Sarah Pitt, Ph.D. and Alan Gunn set out to discover why. It seems the answer lies in the mucus snails excrete. After analysing snail mucus, Pitt, principal lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science at the University of Brighton, and Gunn, subject lead for biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, discovered four new previously unknown proteins. What’s more exciting is that two of these proteins appear to have strong antibacterial properties – especially against aggressive strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes dangerous lung infections in people who have cystic fibrosis. Speaking about the findings of their research, which appears in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, Pitt said: “In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium P. aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria. “So, in this study,we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the university as well as five strains taken from patients with [cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium.” The new discoveries could open up new possibilities in the fight against bacterial infections.
Children whose parents divorce are more likely to get fat than their peers whose parents stay together, new research has revealed. According to the study by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science, children whose parents divorce before they are six are particularly impacted. For the study, the researchers analysed data collected by the UK Millennium Cohort Study on 7,574 children born between 2000 and 2002. Of the children involved, 1,573 (around one in five) had witnessed their parents divorce by the time they were 11. These kids gained more weight in the 24-month period following their parents’ divorce than their peers whose parents remained together. Furthermore, the kids whose parents had divorced were also more likely to become overweight or obese within 36 months of their parents separating. The authors of the paper say their findings underline how much of an impact a divorce can have on children and that parental separation is “a process with potentially long-lasting consequences”. As a result, the authors are calling for more health help and support to be given to families going through a break-up. The paper also offers some reasons why children put on weight following a divorce, namely: There’s often less money in separated households for fresh fruit and vegetables Parents having to work longer hours, so there’s less time to prepare nutritious food There’s often less money for extra-curricular activities, including sport Parents with less time and energy to promote healthy eating habits in their children Emotional problems leading to parents overfeeding their children and kids eating too much sugary and fatty food
Hundreds of men in the UK are trialling a new prostate cancer screening scan to see if it could eventually be offered on the NHS. Right now, there is no routine prostate cancer screening performed in the UK. Blood tests and biopsies are the most reliable ways to determine if a man has prostate cancer. The new test involves a non-invasive MRI scan that checks the inside of the body for any abnormal growths. It will be a few years yet before we know if the new scan is better than the current blood tests, scientists say, but NHS England is, nevertheless, hailing the breakthrough as a “potentially exciting development”. In the UK alone, prostate cancer claims the lives of around 11,800 men every year. It usually develops slowly, so there are often no associated signs or symptoms for many years. Prostate cancer treatment depends on its development. Doctors may suggest to monitor the situation first, while surgery and radiotherapy will be advised for others. Speaking about the new test, Karen Stalbow, from Prostate Cancer UK, said: “This trial could provide an exciting step towards our ambition for a national screening programme that enables men to get the early prostate cancer diagnosis that can save more lives.”
There are more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis among people aged 15-49 every year, according to figures recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO). That equates to over one million new cases of these sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every single day. It’s a reality, the WHO says, that should serve as a wake-up call – especially as such diseases can cause serious and chronic health effects like infertility, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of HIV. In 2016 alone, syphilis caused an estimated 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths globally. The figures show that one in 25 people, on average, has at least one of these STIs. However, many continue to live with multiple infections simultaneously. Sexually transmitted infections are predominantly spread through unprotected sexual contact, but chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. The number one way to prevent STIs is to practise safe sex, which includes wearing a condom and having an understanding of sexual health education. People who are sexually active should also undergo regular STI screening to pick up any infections they might be carrying – sometimes completely obliviously. There is a wide variety of medications that can cure bacterial STIs. Speaking about the figures, Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO, said: “This is a wake-up call for a concerted effort to ensure everyone, everywhere can access the services they need to prevent and treat these debilitating diseases.”
Scientists have developed a heart patch from millions of living, beating stem cells that could help heal heart attack damage. Grown in a lab from a sample of a patient’s own stem cells, the patches are sewn on to the heart and subsequently turn into healthy, working muscle. After three days, the patches start to beat, and after one month, they mimic mature heart tissue. They also release chemicals that stimulate the repair and regeneration of existing heart cells. Tests involving rabbits showed that the patches appear safe and led to an improvement in the function of the heart following a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when a clogged artery leads to the flow of oxygen blood to the heart muscle being disrupted. This causes the heart to be starved of oxygen and vital nutrients, resulting in its pumping power being damaged. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the patches could one day provide an off-the-shelf treatment for patients who have experienced a heart attack. Clinical trials involving humans are set to begin within two years. Speaking about the patches, Researcher Dr Richard Jabbour said: “One day, we hope to add heart patches to the treatments that doctors can routinely offer people after a heart attack. “We could prescribe one of these patches alongside medicines for someone with heart failure, which you could take from a shelf and implant straight in to a person.”
A fungus that has been genetically modified (GM) to produce spider toxin can rapidly kill 99% of mosquitoes that carry and spread malaria. Following trials of the fungus – known as Metarhizium pingshaense – in Burkina Faso, 99% of malaria mosquito populations were wiped out in just 45 days. Metarhizium pingshaense was used because it naturally infects Anopheles mosquitoes (the ones that carry and spread malaria). Scientists then enhanced it using genetic engineering so the fungus would start creating its own version of a venom found in a species of funnel-web spider. For the trials, scientists built a fully-enclosed ‘mosquitosphere’ that mimicked a small village community. They introduced 1,500 mosquitoes. When the insects were left alone, their numbers soared, but when the fungus was introduced, just 13 mosquitoes remained after 45 days. The researchers say their aim is not to destroy all mosquitoes, simply to cull the spread of malaria – a disease that kills more than 400,000 people every year (mostly children). Speaking about the trials, Dr Tony Nolan, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “These results are encouraging. “We need new and complementary tools to augment existing control methods, which are being affected by the development of insecticide-resistance.” The results of the GM fungus trials are published in the journal Science.