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Stair-climbing ‘exercise snacks’ can boost cardiorespiratory health

24/01/2019

Most people understand the important role exercise plays in maintaining and boosting your health. But expensive gym memberships coupled with the busy lives many people lead mean that getting enough exercise is often a non-starter due to the associated expenses and/or a lack of time. The good news though is that new research shows stair climbing, at short intervals that last just a few minutes throughout the day, can improve cardiorespiratory health. For the study, researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, led by Martin Gibala, Ph.D., observed two groups of sedentary youngsters. One group climbed three flights of stairs three times a day and had recovery sessions of between one and four hours in between, while the other group did not exercise. At the end of the study period, the cardiorespiratory health of both groups was assessed. The group that performed the stair climbing each day had higher cardiorespiratory fitness than the group that did no exercise. Moreover, the stair climbers were also found to be stronger at the end of the intervention. Jonathan Little, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada, and study co-author, said: “We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.” So there you have it. You can boost your cardiorespiratory health by simply adding ‘exercise snacks’ into your daily routine.

How much fiber should you be eating to prevent disease?

15/01/2019

The health benefits of eating fiber have long been hailed, but how much fiber should we all be eating to prevent chronic disease and premature death? A new study reveals just that… Commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research is the culmination of a meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that took place over almost 40 years. The results appear in the journal The Lancet. One of the objectives of the research was to help in the development of new guidelines for dietary fiber consumption, as well as discover which carbs protect us the most against noncommunicable diseases. So how much fiber should we be eating? Well, the research found that a daily intake of 25–29 grams of fiber is ideal. People who consumed this amount of fiber each day were 15–30 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause and had a 16–24 percent lower incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The researchers also say that consuming more than 29 grams of fiber per day could lead to even more health benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, said: “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology, and effects on metabolism. “Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. “The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer.” Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and pulses, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Are you consuming enough fiber?

Could a simple breath test detect cancer?

08/01/2019

A clinical trial is underway in Cambridge to determine whether a breath test can accurately detect the presence of cancer. Scientists from Cancer Research UK want to see if any cancer signatures can be picked up in breath samples. If they can, the hope is that such breath tests could be used alongside current blood and urine tests help doctors detect cancer at an early stage going forward. However, we won’t know the results of the trial for at least two years. When cells in the human body carry out biochemical reactions, molecules known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released. But if cancer is present, a different pattern of molecules is produced. The team is trying to determine if these different signatures can be detected in a person’s breath. The ultimate goal would be to develop a test that can not only detect cancer cells, but accurately pinpoint where they are i.e. what type of cancer. For the trial, breath samples from some 1,500 individuals will be analysed – some of who have cancer. Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said breath tests had the potential "to revolutionise the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future".

Mediterranean diet Linked to healthy brain aging

03/01/2019

The New Year is here and for many that means attempting to stick to one or a bunch of resolutions. Eating more healthily, doing more exercise and quitting smoking will be at the top of the list for many people. If one of your goals for 2019 is eating more healthily, perhaps you should consider following a Mediterranean diet. While it varies depending on where you go, a Mediterranean diet, in a nutshell, is one that incorporates all of the healthy eating habits of people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain - so more vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, grains, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. And less meat and dairy foods. As well as being linked with better health, including a healthier heart, a Mediterranean diet also promotes healthy brain aging, according to new research. A recent study involving 116 healthy adults aged 65–75 years, conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, found that participants who ate a Mediterranean diet performed better in memory, general intelligence, and executive function tests. “Our study suggests that diet and nutrition moderate the association between network efficiency and cognitive performance,” said Aron Barbey, a psychology professor at The University of Illinois.

Could blocking a single gene be the key to curing obesity?

05/12/2018

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is a “global epidemic” that must be tackled if we are to prevent its ill effects. In the United States, nearly 40% of adults and 18.5% of children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. That’s why finding effective ways to treat the condition is paramount. But now scientists say they are on the verge of creating a pill that could make obesity a thing of the past - without the need for diet and exercise. Sounds too good to be true, right? Nevertheless, the team at Flinders University in South Australia say that they key to curbing obesity could lie in a single gene known as RCAN1. The team found that when RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were then fed a high fat diet, they did not gain weight. In fact, they could eat as much food as they wanted over a prolonged period of time, the researchers say. Damien Keating, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Flinders, and leader of the research team, said blocking RCAN1 allows the body to transform unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Stunning pictures of the mice used for the trial highlight the difference when RCAN1 was blocked and when it wasn’t. The results of the research are published in the journal EMBO Reports.

Bacteria in babies’ noses linked to faster common cold recovery

04/12/2018

Nobody likes to see a baby with a cold. After all, runny noses and a cough are bad enough when you’re fully grown, let alone when you’re still just an infant. But new research suggests that babies who are born with lots of different bacteria in their noses are more likely to recover quicker from their first cold and could help bolster the way we deal with colds going forward. The findings of the research are interesting because the common cold is caused by a virus, yet it would appear that bacteria found in the respiratory tract do play a part when it comes to recovery. Indeed, the researchers from the University Children's Hospital of Basel found that babies who have lots of different bacteria living in their nose tend to recover more quickly from their first respiratory virus. Moreover, babies with fewer different types of bacteria take longer to recover. Prof Tobias Welte, President of the European Respiratory Society, said: “There is an association between respiratory symptoms in babies in the first year of life and the development of asthma by school age. “We do not yet fully understand this link but the bacteria living in the upper airways could play a role.” He also welcomed further research to help determine the relationship between bacteria, respiratory infections and long-term lung health.

Could an exotic fish hold the key to healing human hearts?

22/11/2018

People who have a heart attack sometimes experience heart muscle damage. As a result, many live with heart failure and may require a heart transplant in the future. But what if there was a way for human hearts to heal themselves? Scientists say an exotic fish could perhaps hold clues to making such an occurrence a reality. The Mexican tetra fish, which lives in freshwater, can, quite amazingly, repair its own heart. Popular with aquarium owners because of its unique coloring, the tetra fish has many different species, most of which can heal their own hearts following damage. To understand how the tetra fish do this, a team of researchers from the University of Oxford in the UK travelled to the Pachón cave in Mexico to study a tetra subspecies, the “blind cave tetra”. This remarkable fish has not only lost its ability to see, but also its color. Moreover, it can no longer regenerate heart tissue. By studying the blind cave tetra alongside other species of tetra, the team of researchers was able to create genetic profiles for both, allowing them to better understand what gives the tetra its amazing heart regeneration abilities. The team, led by Dr. Mathilda Mommersteeg, an associate professor at the University of Oxford, identified three separate genomes relevant to the tetra’s self-healing. Further analysis revealed two genes, lrrc10 and caveolin, were far more active in the river tetras. “A real challenge until now was comparing heart damage and repair in fish with what we see in humans. But, by looking at river fish and cave fish side by side, we've been able to pick apart the genes responsible for heart regeneration,” said Dr. Mommersteeg. Going forward, the research team hopes it may be possible to develop a way for heart attack patients to repair their own heart tissue.

Strength training better for the heart than aerobic exercise, study finds

20/11/2018

Strength training exercises benefit the heart more than aerobic activities, such as walking and cycling, new research suggests. The survey of more than 4,000 American adults found that static exercise, like lifting weights, is more effective at reducing the risk of heart disease than cardiovascular exercise. Specifically, while undertaking both static and dynamic exercise was associated with a 30% to 70% reduction of cardiovascular risk factors, the link was strongest for younger individuals who did static exercises. Nevertheless, any amount of exercise brings benefits and doing both static and dynamic types is still better than focussing on just one kind, the researchers from St. George's University in St. George's, Grenada said. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr. Maia P. Smith, assistant professor at the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at St. George's University, said: “Both strength training and aerobic activity appeared to be heart healthy, even in small amounts, at the population level.” Current American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines recommend that American adults should undertake at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity every week. The same guidelines also stipulate that said activity should be spread across the week and not completed in just one or two days. Are you doing enough physical activity each week? If not, you could be increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]

Early risers less likely to develop breast cancer, finds study

08/11/2018

Women who are larks, otherwise known as “morning people”, have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, a study has revealed. While the exact reason why remains unknown, the team of researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK say their findings are important and add to the growing understanding of how sleep affects our health. A person’s body clock (also known as their circadian rhythm) regulates when a person feels sleepy or awake over a 24-hour period. So-called morning people wake up earlier, peak earlier in the day and feel sleepy earlier in the evening. In contrast, “evening people” (night owls) get up later, peak later in the day and go to sleep later in the evening. Using a data analysis technique called Mendelian randomisation, the researchers looked at DNA snippets of more than 400,000 women. They discovered that women who were larks were less likely to have breast cancer than their night owl peers. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Rebecca Richmond, a researcher from the University of Bristol, told the BBC: “The findings are potentially very important because sleep is ubiquitous and easily modified. “Previous research has looked at the impact of shift work, but this is showing there may be a risk factor for all women.” Nevertheless, many questions still remain. For example, more research now needs to be conducted to see whether the body clock itself is directly impacting a person’s risk of developing cancer, or if factors like night owls breaking their natural circadian rhythm to accommodate jobs is having an impact. [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]

High and low BMI linked to reduced life expectancy

31/10/2018

A new study, one of the largest of its kind, suggests being the wrong weight i.e. overweight or underweight cold knock four years off a person’s life expectancy. According to the study, the findings of which were published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, from the age of 40, people towards the higher end of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range (a healthy BMI ranges from 18.5 to 25) had the lowest risk of dying from disease, including cancer and heart disease. In contrast, individuals who had BMI scores of less than 18.5 or more than 30 had life expectancies that were 4.4 years and 3.85 years shorter respectively. BMI scores, which are calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by their height (in metres squared), are still considered by health professionals to be the simplest and most accurate way to work out if someone is overweight or underweight. For the population-based cohort study, researchers analysed anonymised data on 3.6 million adults from the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). Dr Krishnan Bhaskaran, lead author of the study, said: “The most striking thing about our findings was how widely BMI was linked to different causes of death. BMI was associated with deaths from nearly all major causes.” He added that the research reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that people who have low BMI scores are at as much risk, if not more, of reducing their life expectancies.

Diabetics significantly more likely to die from alcoholism and by suicide, study finds

18/10/2018

The physical health problems associated with diabetes are well understood and publicised. For example, diabetics have an increased risk of developing cancer, kidney disorders and cardiovascular disease. But what about the mental impact of living with diabetes? It’s not something that gets a lot of attention, but the findings of a new study could see it thrust under the spotlight. That’s because the study by researchers from Finland found a worrying connection between diabetes and the risk of someone dying by suicide or alcoholism. According to the study, diabetics are more than 10 times more likely to die as a result of alcoholism – predominantly cirrhosis of the liver – and 110% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. The highest risk was seen among diabetes patients who rely on regular insulin injections to avoid serious health complications. Professor Leo Niskanen, of the University of Helsinki, who led the study, said diabetes patients who have to monitor their glucose levels and administer insulin frequently suffer tremendous mental strain. “This strain combined with the anxiety of developing serious complications like heart or kidney disease may also take their toll on psychological well-being,” he said. Is it time we started talking about the mental health implications of living with diabetes? [Related reading: Type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years in advance, researchers say]

Sit-stand desks boost work performance, study suggests

16/10/2018

Workers who utilise standing desks are less tired and more engaged, new research suggests. For the research, led by a team from Loughborough University and experts from Leicester, NHS workers were given new height-adjustable desks and set goals for the amount of time they spent standing up. At the start of the year-long study, a group of 146 mainly sedentary NHS staff were split into two groups. One group were given height-adjustable workstations, also known as sit-stand desks, while the other group continued to use their traditional sitting desks. After a year, the research team assessed the amount of time workers spent sitting and working. They found that sitting time was lowered in the group with sit-stand desks by 82.39 minutes per day at 12 months. The same group also reported that they were less tired and more engaged in their work. According to the research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the sit-stand group also reported improvements in musculoskeletal problems and a better quality of life. The sedentary lifestyles many office workers today lead are often cited as one of the primary reasons for the increasing number of obese individuals. Could something as simple as a sit-stand desk be the answer to combatting this epidemic and help us start leading healthier lives?

Mental Health Should Be At The Top Of Every Workplace Agenda

11/10/2018

Did you know that yesterday was World Mental Health Day? If not, why not? It’s celebrated every year, on October 10, yet lots of people still aren’t aware of it and that’s such a shame – especially when you consider that one in four people will be affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives [source: WHO]. In fact, while it is obviously fantastic that there is a dedicated day for spreading awareness about mental health, shouldn’t conversations surrounding this extremely important issue be happening all year round? Unfortunately, mental health issues have always had a stigma associated. As a result, they are not frequently and openly discussed – especially in places of work. But the reality is that workplaces are definitely somewhere mental health should be being discussed. That’s because mental health issues not only impact the individual experiencing them, but also the people around them – their colleagues. The bottom line is workplaces that promote good wellbeing and provide support to individuals with mental health issues stand a greater chance of reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. Plus, by being seen to be an employer that holds mental health in high regard, the company will also promote itself as one that people want to work for. So why wait until October 10 next year to start a conversation around mental health issues. Let’s put this important topic at the top of every agenda, especially in the workplace.

Type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years in advance, researchers say

09/10/2018

Some of the warning signs often associated with type-2 diabetes can be detected years before the disease is actually diagnosed, researchers say. A study found factors such as insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels were seen in people years prior to them developing pre-diabetes – a typical pre-cursor to the type-2 form of the disease. The authors of the Japanese study say their findings suggest that diabetes treatment should begin much earlier in life. For the study, conducted over an 11-year period, the researchers followed a group of 27,000 people who were not diabetic and aged between 30 and 50. The individuals were tracked until they either (a) got diagnosed with type-2 diabetes; (b) got diagnosed with pre-diabetes; or (c) the end of 2016 was reached. During the study, 1,067 new cases of type-2 diabetes were diagnosed. The interesting part is that these people showed warning signs, such as insulin resistance and higher fasting blood sugar levels, up to 10 years prior. Similar warning signs were also seen in those that went on to develop pre-diabetes. So, this suggests that type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years before a diagnosis occurs. This is because people who develop type-2 diabetes usually get pre-diabetes first. Dr Hiroyuki Sagesaka, from Aizawa Hospital in Matsumoto, Japan, who led the research, said: “Because trials of prevention in people with pre-diabetes seem to be less successful over long-term follow-up, we may need to intervene much earlier than the pre-diabetes stage to prevent progression to full blown diabetes. “A much earlier intervention trail, either drug or lifestyle-related, is warranted.” [Related reading: Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two]

Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer

04/10/2018

A major study has found that eating processed meat, like bacon and sausages, may raise the risk of breast cancer in women. According to the review of studies involving more than one million women, eating higher levels of processed meat could result in a 9% greater risk of developing breast cancer. The research by a team from Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health reviewed 15 related studies. It supports previous findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which suggest processed meats cause cancer. However, while the study has identified a potential link between processed meat and breast cancer, there is no clear evidence to show these types of foods are actually the cause. Furthermore, as outlined by the study authors in the International Journal of Cancer, their findings only relate to processed meat, not red meat. Bacon, sausages, salami, ham, hot dogs and corned beef are all examples of processed meat. And while it is not fully known why these foods are associated with a greater risk of cancer, it is thought that preservatives, like salt, may react with protein in the meat turning it carcinogenic. But rather than eliminating processed meat from your diet completely, the advice is simply to cut down. At present, current NHS guidelines recommend eating no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. If you’re eating more than that on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to make some dietary changes.

Less screen time linked to better cognitive performance

02/10/2018

Tablets, mobile phones and other handheld devices are extremely popular among children (and their parents). The former get visual stimulation, while the latter get some peace and quiet. But how does screen use affect a child’s cognitive ability? Well, according to a new study by researchers at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, less screen time results in better cognition. Specifically, children aged eight to 11 who used screens for fun for more than two hours every day performed more poorly in cognition tests than their counterparts who got less screen time. Moreover, the researchers found that less screen time, nine to 11 hours of sleep every night and at least one hour of physical activity led to even better results. Nevertheless, less than two hours screen time each day was the factor linked with the best performance results. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Jeremy Walsh, from the CHEO Research Institute, said: “Based on our findings, paediatricians, parents, educators, and policymakers should promote limiting recreational screen time and prioritising healthy sleep routines throughout childhood and adolescence.” The study, which looked at data from 4,500 children aged 8-11 from 20 locations across the U.S., is published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Smokers told not to go cold turkey when wanting to quit

27/09/2018

A new report from Public Health England (PHE) shows that smokers who take advantage of local support services and stop smoking aids, like e-cigarettes, inhalers and nicotine patches, stand a much greater chance of successfully kicking the habit. Quitting smoking using willpower alone, often referred to as ‘going cold turkey,’ only works for a small number of people who try it, with just 4% remaining smoke-free after 12 months. Nevertheless, of the six in 10 smokers in England who want to quit, the majority try to do so using the cold turkey method. But by turning to a combination of local support services and nicotine replacement therapies, smokers could witness much better success, according to PHE. In fact, PHE says that 51% of smokers who utilised local support services successfully quit and this figure rose to 63% for those who incorporated an e-cigarette or similar into their efforts. To further boost the stop smoking drive in England, PHE has created the Stoptober campaign. In addition to increasing awareness about the most effective ways to quit smoking, the campaign also has its own free online personal quit plan. This plan provides personalised stop smoking advice based on a smoker’s answers to three quick questions. There’s even an official Stoptober app to help smokers stay on track and get stop smoking advice while on the go. The Stoptober campaign centres on three really good reasons to kick the smoking habit: feel healthier, save money and protect your family – can’t really argue with that!

Obesity set to overtake smoking as number one preventable cause of cancer in UK women, charity warns

25/09/2018

By 2043, obesity will surpass smoking to be the biggest preventable cause of cancer in UK women. That’s one of the shocking new predictions to come out of a report by Cancer Research UK. At present, around 7% of cancers in women are linked to being overweight and obese, while 12% are said to be caused by smoking. But as the number of individuals who smoke continues to fall and obesity rates continue to rise, the UK cancer charity believes that gap will completely disappear over the next 25 years (assuming current trends continue). In fact, by 2035, the percentage of cancers caused by smoking and by carrying excess weight will almost be equal (25,000 cancer cases each year related to smoking vs. 23,000 related to being overweight). However, after just another eight years (by 2043), being overweight and obese is likely to be linked to even more cases of cancer in women than smoking. Interestingly, the cancer charity says that obesity will not overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer in men until some time later. The reason for this, though, is simply because more men than women smoke. While obesity is more prevalent among men too, it is thought to be a greater catalyst in women for developing cancer. Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's prevention expert, said the UK government must act now to stem the tide of obesity-related cancers. “That's why we are raising awareness of the link between cancer and obesity and calling for measures to protect children, like a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and for restrictions on price promotions of 'less healthy' products,” she said. Smoking-related cancers include: acute myeloid leukaemia lung bladder bowel cervical pancreatic stomach Obesity-related cancers include: bowel gall bladder kidney liver breast ovarian thyroid

WHO report reveals world’s fittest country

18/09/2018

What’s the fittest country in the world? Would you have any idea if you were asked? Even hazard a guess? Hint: It’s a country in Africa. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Uganda is the world’s most physically active country. Published in the medical journal The Lancet, the study findings are from a compilation of surveys completed in 168 countries. Just 5.5% of Ugandans do not do enough physical activity. People living in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania and Togo are also getting plenty of exercise, too. In comparison, people living in Kuwait (the least active nation) have far more sedentary lifestyles, with 67% of the population not active enough. The report highlights a distinct divide between the levels of physical activity in poorer countries vs. wealthier countries. People in poorer nations are more likely to walk to work and/or have jobs that see them being physically active throughout the day. Recommended exercise guidelines for 19- to 64-year-olds Here’s what the UK’s NHS recommends: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as cycling or brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (such as running or a game of tennis) every week Strength exercises that work all the major muscles at least two days per week Long periods of sitting should be broken up with light activity Are you getting enough physical activity? Could a small lifestyle change enable you to? [Related reading: Open-plan offices could improve health, reduce stress]

Over 18 million new cancer cases this year: WHO

13/09/2018

One in five men and one in six women will develop cancer in their lifetime. That’s one of the stark predictions revealed in a new report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is based in Lyon, France. This year alone, there will be 18.1 million new cases of cancer and 9.6 million people will die with the disease worldwide. This represents a significant increase from 14.1 million cases and 8.2 million deaths in 2012. The report also predicts that by the end of the century, cancer will be the number one killer globally and the single biggest barrier to people living long lives. Looking closely at data from 185 countries, the researchers focussed on 36 different types of cancer. Lung cancer, colorectal (bowel) cancer and female breast cancer are thought to be responsible for a third of all cancer cases worldwide. Researchers have attributed the rise to the world’s growing and ageing population. That’s because more people equals more cancer, and as people get older their cancer risks grow. Moreover, as countries become wealthier, more of the people living in them develop lifestyle-related cancers. Speaking about the report, Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said: “These new figures highlight that much remains to be done to address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally and that prevention has a key role to play.” “Efficient prevention and early detection policies must be implemented urgently to complement treatments in order to control this devastating disease across the world.”

Doctors told to use 'plain English', not Latin

06/09/2018

Have you ever received a letter from your doctor or physician and not been able to clearly understand its contents? If you have, we’ve got some positive news for you. That’s because the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is urging doctors to do away with medical jargon in correspondence to patients and use easy to understand terms instead. For example, the academy says the term “twice daily” is much better than the often used Latin abbreviation “bd”, and says patients should ask their local hospital to follow the advice. Oftentimes, hospital doctors write letters directly to a patient’s GP and refer to the patient in the third person. However, this can lead to things being misinterpreted and even the patient being offended. The academy cites the example of a father who was praised for “manfully stepping in” when his wife could not take their daughter to an appointment because she (the wife) was too ill. Doctors are also being asked to try and soften potentially sensitive information and avoid stigmatising words. For example, “You have diabetes,” is better than “You are diabetic.” The initiative is being led by Dr Hugh Rayner, a kidney specialist, who has been writing to patients directly since 2005. He said: “The change may seem small but it has a big effect. “Writing to patients rather than about them changes the relationship between doctor and patient. “It involves them more in their care and leads to all sorts of benefits.”

Mental health apps could be contributing to overdiagnosis

04/09/2018

There’s a mobile application (app) for just about everything nowadays, including helping us deal with our wellbeing. These so-called mental health apps often provide help and comfort for the people who use them, but new research suggests they could be missing the mark by quite some way. According to researchers from The University of Sydney and The University of Adelaide, both in Australia, there could be some major problems with how mental health apps frame mental illness (diagnose it) and the advice they give for dealing with it. For the research, a qualitative content analysis of 61 mental health apps from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia was conducted. The main problem that was identified was a tendency to promote medicalization of normal mental health states, leading to overdiagnosis. Furthermore, the apps encouraged people to use them frequently and promoted “personal responsibility” for improvement of conditions. While any form of medical self-help, including apps, can be useful, they should only form part of an overall plan for coping with mental illness. The bottom line is that people should never rely solely on apps and seek help from a therapist if they are concerned about their mental health. Relying on technology, unfortunately, does have its limitations.

Open-plan offices could improve health, reduce stress

23/08/2018

The sedentary lifestyles many office-based workers lead are often cited as having a negative impact on their health, but a new study suggests the type of office someone works in could make a difference. That’s because the US study of 231 employees found that those who worked in open-plan offices were more active and less stressed than their peers in cubicles or private offices. In fact, open-plan office workers clocked up 20% more physical activity than those in cubicles and 32% more than those who had their own office.   But why? The researchers say it could be to do with open-plan office workers being more likely to get up and have a conversation with one of their colleagues if they can see them across the room, instead of using a telephone or email. The extra physical activity was thought to be a factor linked to the lower stress levels, suggesting that open-plan offices afford more than just physical health benefits. The University of Arizona study, published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, is the first of its kind to actually monitor activity and stress levels using technology, instead of relying on individuals to fill out surveys. Esther Sternberg, a professor at University of Arizona College of Medicine and study author, said: “We all know we should be increasing our activity but no matter how we try to encourage people to engage in healthy behaviour, it doesn't work for long. “So changing office design to encourage healthy behaviour is a passive way of getting people to be more active.”

Low-carb diets could shorten life expectancy, study finds

21/08/2018

Diets that are low in carbohydrates, such as the Atkins Diet, have become increasingly popular among people wanting to lose weight. But while some swear that cutting carbs is the key to weight loss and a long, healthy life, a new study suggests it could actually shorten your life expectancy by up to four years. The 25-year study in the US found that moderate carbohydrate consumption and/or replacing meat with plant-based protein and fats is healthier than a low-carb diet. Based on questionnaires completed by some 15,400 people and published in The Lancet Public Health journal, the study found that individuals who got around half of their energy from carbohydrates had a slightly lower risk of death compared to people who had low and high card intakes. From the age of 50, people in the moderate carb group were expected to live, on average, for another 33 years, the researchers found. That’s four years more than the individuals in the extra low-carb group and 2.3 years more than the low-card group. Dr Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist from Boston and leader of the study, said: “Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight-loss strategy. “However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged. “Instead, if one chooses to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy ageing in the long term.” [Recommended reading: Serving food on smaller plates doesn't fool hungry people - study]

Cruciferous vegetables can help prevent bowel cancer

16/08/2018

It’s a widely accepted fact that cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are good for the gut, but scientists say they have now discovered why. The work by the team from the Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre in London, focussed on the way cruciferous vegetables alter the lining of the intestines. As they are digested, anti-cancer chemicals, including indole-3-carbinol, are produced. Indole-3-carbinol changes the behaviour of stem cells in the lower bowel and the study involving mice showed it protected them from cancer – even mice whose genes put them at a very high risk of developing the disease. Speaking about the findings of the study, one of the researchers, Dr Gitta Stockinger, said: “Even when the mice started developing tumours and we switched them to the appropriate diet, it halted tumour progression.” Prof Tim Key, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Further studies will help find out whether the molecules in these vegetables have the same effect in people, but in the meantime there are already plenty of good reasons to eat more vegetables.” Interestingly, Dr Stockinger added that cruciferous vegetables should not be overcooked to get the most benefit. According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, affecting almost 42,000 people every year.

Too much exercise can negatively impact mental health - study

14/08/2018

A large-scale study has found that just 45 minutes of physical exercise three to five times a week can improve mental wellbeing. [Related reading: People who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have higher risk of dementia] According to the US study of 1.2 million people, people who exercised regularly had fewer “bad days” a month than their non-exercising counterparts. Furthermore, while activities such as cycling, aerobics and team sports had the greatest positive impact, all types of physical activity, including things like doing household chores and looking after kids, were found to improve mental health. Moreover, people who had previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression were found to afford the greatest benefits. The optimal routine identified by the researchers was being physically active for 30 to 60 minutes every second day. More interesting is the researchers’ finding that too much exercise can have a negative impact. Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said: "Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. "Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions is associated with worse mental health." The findings of the study are published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

People who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have higher risk of dementia

09/08/2018

Alcohol and the amount people drink is the frequent focus of medical studies. However, studying alcohol consumption often results in mixed findings. For example, while drinking too much alcohol can result in liver disease and high blood pressure, other studies have shown that a glass of beer or wine a day can help people live longer. [Related reading: Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding: new study shows possible child cognitive development impact] Now a new study suggests people who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have a heightened risk of dementia later in life. The long-term study, which tracked the health of more than 9,000 civil servants in London, found that middle-aged people who drank over the recommended alcohol limit each week and those who abstained completely were more likely to develop dementia. Specifically, abstinence in midlife was associated with a 45% greater risk of developing dementia compare to people who drank between one and 14 units of alcohol per week. But before you reach for a glass of wine, it should be noted that early life alcohol consumption was not taken into account for the study. People who are teetotal in midlife may have a history of heavy alcohol consumption in their younger years. Indeed, Dr Sara Imarisio, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As this study only looked at people’s drinking in midlife, we don’t know about their drinking habits earlier in adulthood, and it is possible that this may contribute to their later life dementia risk.” The results of the study were recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding: new study shows possible child cognitive development impact

07/08/2018

Some new mothers drink alcohol while they are breastfeeding and think nothing of it. But a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests they could be impacting their baby’s cognitive abilities. Specifically, the study found that children who were exposed to alcohol through their mothers’ breast milk didn’t perform as well on reasoning tests at ages 6 and 7 as their peers who weren’t exposed to any alcohol. For the study, researchers analysed data on 5,107 infants from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Mothers were asked about their alcohol and tobacco use while breastfeeding, with the ultimate aim being to see if either affected children’s cognitive development. Not only were the test scores of children exposed to alcohol lower, they were lowest for those whose mothers drank the most. However, the researchers found no link between smoking while breastfeeding and test scores. While the researchers were not able to measure the cognitive reductions in a child once they reached 10 or 11, Louse Gibson, a co-author of the study, said that “doesn’t mean that the child has grown out of it, or that the effects of the mother’s alcohol consumption aren’t there anymore.” [Recommended reading: Bottle feeding is a woman’s right, midwives advised]

Dengue fever could be culled by special mosquitoes

02/08/2018

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide. Severe dengue is a leading cause of death and serious illness among children in Asian and South American countries. Unfortunately, there is no definitive medical treatment for dengue fever, but hope may be on the horizon. That’s because researchers in Australia say they have managed to eradicate dengue from an entire city using captive-bred mosquitoes. The captive-bred mosquitoes have the naturally-occurring bacteria Wolbachia, which hinders dengue transmission. The bacteria are spread as the released mosquitoes mate with local mosquitoes. As a result, the city of Townsville has been dengue-free since 2014. The researchers, all of whom are from Monash University, also believe the technique could be used to stop other mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and malaria. Speaking to the Guardian, Scott O'Neill, director of the World Mosquito Program, said: "Nothing we've got is slowing these diseases down - they are getting worse." "I think we've got something here that's going to have a significant impact and I think this study is the first indication that it's looking very promising." The results of the Australian researchers’ study were published in Gates Open Research. The next step is to trial the approach in Yogyakarta in Indonesia - a city of nearly 390,000.

Serving food on smaller plates doesn't fool hungry people - study

31/07/2018

If you’re trying desperately to lose weight, you’ll know that diets are difficult. But did you also know that the old trick of using a smaller plate when you eat to reduce portion sizes also (apparently) doesn’t work? That’s the finding of a new study that analysed how tricking the brain with a smaller plate doesn’t work when someone is hungry. According to the study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), “plate size doesn’t matter as much as we think it does” – especially when people are food deprived. For the study, the results of which were published in the peer-reviewed journal Appetite, the researchers set to out to see if people could identify pizza portion sizes when they were placed on plates of differing sizes. They found that people who had not eaten for at least three hours prior to the test were more likely to identify the pizza portions on both smaller and larger plates than their counterparts who were not hungry. Interestingly, this only happened when applied to food, with both groups similarly inaccurate when asked to compare the size of black circles placed within different sized circles. The researchers say this shows that hunger plays a role in heightening the analytical abilities of individuals. "Over the last decade, restaurants and other food businesses have been using progressively smaller dishes to conform to the perceptual bias that it will reduce food consumption," says Dr. Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU's Department of Psychology. "This study debunks that notion. When people are hungry, especially when dieting, they are less likely to be fooled by the plate size, more likely to realize they are eating less and more prone to overeating later."

Omega-3 fish oil supplements provide little vascular health benefit

24/07/2018

Do you take supplements containing omega-3 fish oil in the belief they are helping to protect your heart? A new study suggests you could be wasting your money. Researchers from Cochrane analysed trials involving more than 100,000 people and discovered little proof that omega-3 supplements prevented heart disease. In fact, they say the chance of getting any benefits from such supplements is one in 1,000. However, despite this, the researchers still maintain that eating oily fish as part of a healthy diet is beneficial. Indeed, NHS guidelines state that people should try to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which, ideally, should be oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or fresh tuna. This is so they get enough “good” fats. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Tim Chico, a cardiologist from Sheffield University, said: “There was a period where people who had suffered a heart attack were prescribed these on the NHS. This stopped some years ago. “Such supplements come with a significant cost, so my advice to anyone buying them in the hope that they reduce the risk of heart disease, I'd advise them to spend their money on vegetables instead.” Dr Lee Hooper, from the University of East Anglia, said: “The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega-3 fats on cardiovascular health.” Nevertheless, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the UK’s Health and Food Supplements Information Service said supplements containing omega-3 can still play an important role for people who don’t eat oily fish – especially as omega-3 also benefits the brain, eyes and immune function.

Can heading a football cause long-term brain damage?

18/07/2018

France is still woozy with World Cup fever and rightly so (Allez Les Bleus), which makes today’s blog post particularly topical. That’s because a new study has set out to discover whether repeatedly heading a football can cause damage to the brain and lead to long-term health problems. Involving 300 former professional footballers, the study plans to put the ex-players through a series of tests that are designed to assess their physical and cognitive capabilities. Clinical examinations will be performed on the players, all aged between 50 and 85, while additional data relating to their playing careers and lifestyle choices will also be sourced. This is so the study researchers can differentiate between the players’ former positions and draw more accurate comparisons. The footballers’ results will then be compared to available population data relating to individuals born in 1954 who have had their ageing processes monitored since birth. The researchers hope this will allow them to discover if mild concussions in football that often occur when a player heads the ball can have long-term effects. The study will be carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Occupational Medicine. Lead researcher Prof Neil Pearce, from LSHTM, said: “This study will provide, for the first time, persuasive evidence of the long-term effects on cognitive function from professional football.”

Evidence suggests potential link between Alzheimer’s and herpes

17/07/2018

Genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors are all thought to play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease. And it’s now looking increasingly likely that we can add certain strains of the herpes virus to that list too. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the results of which were recently published in the journal Neuron, found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of herpes strains 6A and 7 – two common forms of the virus, but not the ones responsible for genital herpes or cold sores. Alzheimer’s – also commonly referred to as dementia – causes people to lose their memory and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States today. The authors of the study hope their research could one day lead to exciting new Alzheimer’s treatments and help better determine just who is at risk of developing the disease. "The hypothesis that viruses play a part in brain disease is not new, but this is the first study to provide strong evidence based on unbiased approaches and large data sets that lends support to this line of inquiry," National Institute of Aging Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., said in a statement. The findings of the study reignite an old theory that suggests viruses could impact brain functions long term.

New type 1 diabetes trial could prevent babies from developing the condition

12/07/2018

It’s thought around one in 100 babies has genes that place them at increased risk of developing type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes. And unfortunately, at present, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. But experts believe a new technique may be able to prevent high-risk babies from developing the condition. The idea is to use powdered insulin to train the immune systems of infants so that they are afforded life-long protection. Pregnant women attending maternity check-ups in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire in the UK are being asked to take part in the trial. Trial participants will be split into two groups, with half getting real insulin and the other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor the researchers will know which they received until after the trial. By spoon-feeding an infant insulin powder from six months to three years, experts hope their immune systems will be trained to tolerate insulin and prevent type 1 diabetes.   A lifelong condition, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which causes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to be destroyed. As a result, the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin and the person's blood sugar (glucose) level becomes too high. Speaking about the trial, Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: "This is a huge endeavour, so we would encourage women living in the South East who think they might be eligible to find out more - research like this can't happen without the incredible people who take part." [Related reading: Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two]

Babies given solid foods sleep better, study suggests

10/07/2018

Babies who are fed solid food in addition to breast milk from the age of three months sleep better than those who are solely breastfed, a new study has revealed. Publishing their findings in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors of the study noted the following: “The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. However, 75% of British mothers introduce solids before 5 months and 26% report infant waking at night as influencing this decision.” Experts say women should still heed WHO’s advice, but that the guidelines are currently under review. For the study, the researchers from King's College London, and St George's, University of London, split 1,303 three-month-old infant into two groups: one that was solely breastfed and one that also had solid foods incorporated from the age of three months. The babies’ parents were then surveyed to see if the addition of solid foods had made a difference to the sleep patterns of the infants and the mothers’ quality of life. The parents of the babies who were given solid foods from three months reported that their children slept longer, woke less frequently and had far fewer serious sleep problems. Prof Gideon Lack from King's College, London, said: "The results of this research support the widely held parental view that early introduction of solids improves sleep. "While the official guidance is that starting solid foods won't make babies more likely to sleep through the night, this study suggests that this advice needs to be re-examined in light of the evidence we have gathered." [Related reading: Bottle feeding is a woman’s right, midwives advised]

Eating nuts regularly could improve a man's sperm quality

05/07/2018

A new study suggests that eating nuts regularly can improve both a man’s sperm count and the quality of the sperm produced. Experts say the finding is significant given that sperm counts across the Western world are in decline, a reality that’s been attributed to pollution, smoking and diet. At present, around one in seven couples have difficulty getting pregnant and figures show that 40-50% of infertility cases are attributable to men. For the study, scientists randomly split 119 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 35 into two groups. One group had 60 grams (2oz) of nuts added to their normal diet each day, while the other continued to eat as they always had done. The group that had the nuts added to their diet were found to have improved sperm – 14% greater count, 4% better vitality, 6% better motility (movement) and 1% better morphology (shape and size) – all of which are considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be measures of  sperm quality. Dr Albert Salas-Huetos, from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain, who led the study, said: "Evidence is accumulating in the literature that healthy lifestyle changes such as following a healthy dietary pattern might help conception”. The results of the study were recently presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona.

Heat-stable drug could prevent thousands of women dying every year during childbirth

03/07/2018

Each Year, around 70,000 women die due to postpartum haemorrhages, excessive bleeding following the birth of a baby. These haemorrhages also pose a risk to babies, increasing their chances of dying in the first month of life. Until now, there have been drugs available to help prevent these haemorrhages. However, the hot humid conditions found in many of the countries that would benefit from them the most are thought to stop the lifesaving medicines working. That’s why a revamped drug that can withstand extreme heat and remain effective for up to 1,000 days has been hailed as revolutionary by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Experts say the medicine, known as heat-stable carbetocin, should be offered to all women giving birth vaginally across as many as 90 countries around the world. Speaking about the development of heat-stable carbetocin, WHO expert Dr Metin Gulmezoglu said it was “very good news for the millions of women who give birth in parts of the world without access to reliable refrigeration”. He added: “It will help to save many lives of mothers in lower income countries where most deaths occur”. The drug is currently available for other uses ad regulators will now assess whether it can be approved for wider use going forward.

Marital status should be added to the list of cardiovascular risk factors - study

28/06/2018

Doctors should take a person’s marital status into account when assessing their risk of heart attack and stroke, a major study has found. For the study, researchers at Keele University analysed numerous trials involving more than two million people. They found that individuals who were never married, divorced or widowed were 42% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. They were also 42% more likely to die from heart disease and 55% more likely to die from a stroke. Risk factors such as age, sex, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes are usually associated with cardiovascular disease. However, the findings of the new study suggest marital status should also be added to the list. Senior author, Mamas Mamas, Professor of Cardiology at Keele University, in England, said:  “Our work suggests that marital status should be considered in patients with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and should be used alongside more traditional cardiac risk factors to identify those patients that may be at higher risk for future cardiovascular events”. The researchers say the reason marriage could have a protective effect on cardiovascular disease is because of the additional emotional and social support that’s afforded by having a spouse. People with long-term partners are more likely to have symptoms spotted earlier and encouraged to seek medical advice as a result.

Environment not genes responsible for emotional eating in children

25/06/2018

Some of us turn to food for comfort when we are feeling emotional or stressed. Likewise, some of us cut back on food when we are feeling upset. But they are habits that could be influencing our children too. That’s because new research by University College London has found that children who eat more or less when stressed or upset have learnt the behaviour rather than inherited it, suggesting home environments are the primary cause of emotional eating. Parental acts such as giving children their favourite food when they are feeling upset have been highlighted as potential reasons for the habits forming. But UK-based eating disorder charity Beat says parents shouldn’t be blamed for their children’s eating issues. "Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and never have one sole cause," the charity said. The study, which was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, analysed 398 four-year-old British twins. Half came from families with obese parents and half from parents with a healthy weight. The parents were asked questions about their children’s eating habits, including their tendencies to emotionally eat. The researchers compared the questionnaire data relating to eating disorders between identical and non-identical twins and found very little difference between the two, which suggests environment plays a bigger role than genes.

Babies are most likely to be born at 4am, study finds

21/06/2018

Expectant mothers should prepare themselves for an early morning birth, as a new study has found that most babies are born spontaneously between 01:00 and 07:00, with 4am being the most likely time for new babies to be brought into the world. Overall, more than 70% of births took place outside regular working hours, according to the analysis of five million births conducted by researchers from University College London, City, University of London and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Planned C-sections tend to happen on weekday mornings, which is understandable, while births after induced labours are more likely to occur around midnight. With just 28% of births occurring between 09:00 and 17:00 on weekdays, the researchers said their findings could be used to determine the staffing of midwives and doctors. Dr Peter Martin, lead author of the paper, who conducted the research while at City, University of London, said the fact more births are likely to occur at night or in the early hours “may be part of our evolutionary heritage. Our ancestors lived in groups that were active and dispersed during the day and came together to rest at night. So a night-time labour and birth probably afforded the mother and new-born baby some protection”.

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