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Could garden snails hold the answer when it comes to fighting deadly bacteria?

20/06/2019

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 be fat

18/06/2019

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

More than one million new STI cases every day - WHO

11/06/2019

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.”  

‘Pumping’ heart patches could repair damage caused by heart attacks

06/06/2019

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.”

GM Fungus Shows Huge Promise In Fight Against Malaria

04/06/2019

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.

Can weighing yourself every day prevent weight gain?

30/05/2019

With more than 37% of American adults living with obesity, and more than 32% overweight, any strategies for curbing weight gain should be closely examined to see if they could help the situation. Now, new research suggests that weighing ourselves every day could effectively prevent weight gain – especially over the usually over-indulgent holiday period. Published in the journal Obesity, the research was led by Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. For the study, Cooper and colleagues recruited 111 adults aged between 18 and 65. Each participant was told to try and maintain their starting weight during the holiday season, but wasn’t given any advice on how to do this. Instead, the participants were all told to weigh themselves – some daily and others less frequently. At the end of the 14-week trial, the participants who weighed themselves every day either maintained their starting weight or actually lost weight. In contrast, the participants who did not weigh themselves every day all gained weight. The researchers suggest that by weighing themselves every day and being able to exercise more/eat less to combat small weight increases, those participants were able to maintain their starting weight or lose weight. Speaking about the findings of the research, Study co-author Michelle vanDellen, said: “People are really sensitive to discrepancies or differences between their current selves and their standard or goal. When they see that discrepancy, it tends to lead to behavioural change. Daily self-weighing ends up doing that for people in a really clear way.”

Rising number of mumps cases in England prompts vaccine call

28/05/2019

A significant rise in the number of mumps cases being confirmed in England in the first quarter of this year has led to calls for people to ensure they are vaccinated. In the first three months of 2019, there were 795 cases of mumps in England. This compares to 1,031 throughout the whole of 2018. Public Health England said that just one person missing their mumps vaccine was “too many”. Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common before the MMR vaccine was introduced. It is perhaps best recognised by the swelling it causes on the side of a person’s face under their ears, resulting in the distinctive “hamster face” appearance. In rare circumstances, mumps can lead to viral meningitis and swelling in the ovaries or testicles. Most mumps cases are linked to teenagers going to university for the first time and the most prominent reason why it’s a problem right now is because many of the students who are attending university were born during the height of the MMR-autism scare. This has since been completely disproved, but it still caused a drop in vaccination rates at the time. Speaking about the situation, Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “If you're going to university, now's the time to catch up if you missed out as a child.”

World-first phage therapy treats teenager with drug-resistant bacterial infection

09/05/2019

A British teenager has become the first person in the world to have a drug-resistant bacterial infection treated by genetically engineered viruses. Isabelle Holdaway, 17, was given just a 1% chance of survival after a double lung transplant to treat her cystic fibrosis left her with an intractable bacterial infection that could not be treated with antibiotics. Her arms, legs and buttocks had numerous big, black, festering lesions where the bacteria were pushing up through her skin. She finally ended up in intensive care after her liver began to fail. Every previous patient in Isabelle’s situation died – some within a year, despite aggressive treatment. Desperate for a solution, Isabelle’s mother researched alternative treatments online and came across phage therapy. It’s not new; doctors have been using it for nearly a century, but its use has been eclipsed by antibiotics because they are much easier to use. Isabelle’s care team at Great Ormond Street Hospital contacted Prof Graham Hatfull at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in the US, who had the world's largest collection of phages (approximately 15,000). Hatfull and his team identified three potential phages that would be effective in tackling Isabelle’s bacterial infection and genetically modified two of them to make them more effective. Isabelle was injected with the cocktail of phages twice daily and they were also applied to the lesions on her skin. Within just six weeks, a liver scan showed that the infection had essentially disappeared. Phage therapy involves injecting bacteria-killing viruses into a patient’s body which track down, infect and ultimately kill bacteria. The phages hijack the bacterial cell and turn it into a phage factory until the viruses burst out of the bacteria killing it in the process. While Isabelle’s fatal infection has not been completely cured, it is under control and she is beginning to lead a normal life. She still has two infusions of phages every day and is currently waiting for a fourth phage to be added to the mix, which will hopefully clear the infection completely.

Dementia is the ‘biggest health challenge of our time’

07/05/2019

In 1906, a German doctor called Alois Alzheimer performed an autopsy on a 55-year-old lady who had profound memory loss. What he discovered was that she had an abnormally shrunken brain, as well as abnormalities in and around her nerve cells. It was the first time that such brain abnormalities had been witnessed and led to the coining of the term “Alzheimer’s disease.” At the time of Alzheimer’s discovery, dementia was rare and something that wasn’t subsequently studied for decades. Fast-forward to today and someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every three seconds, making it the number one cause of dementia. In some wealthier nations today, Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest killers – mainly due to the fact that it’s completely untreatable. In England and Wales, one in eight death certificates nowadays lists dementia as the cause of death, while it is estimated that 50 million people globally are living with the condition. However, as populations in developing countries age, the number of people living with dementia globally is set to soar to 130 million by 2050. But why is dementia more common today? Simply because we are all living longer and age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Speaking to the BBC recently, Hilary Evans, chief executive of the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “Dementia certainly is the biggest health challenge of our time. It's the one that will continue to rise in terms of prevalence, unless we can do something to stop or cure this disease."

Being just slightly overweight doubles risk of type 2 diabetes - study

02/05/2019

A major study has found that the UK has a big obesity problem, and that there are severe health implications for people who are even just a little overweight. According to the research, which was funded by healthcare firm Novo Nordisk, individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30-35 were 70% more likely to develop heart failure than their healthy weight peers (18.5-25 BMI). Furthermore, the study of 2.8 million adults also showed that people who were even slightly overweight were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The study, which is due to be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, also revealed: The risk of Type 2 diabetes for people with a BMI of 35-40 was almost nine times higher People with severe obesity (BMI of 40-45) were 12 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes People with severe obesity also had triple the risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, and dyslipidaemia (elevated levels of total or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol) A BMI of 40-45 was also linked with a 50% higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause Speaking about the findings of the study, Public Health England said “sustained action” was needed to tackle obesity.

No sedentary screen time for under twos, WHO says

29/04/2019

For busy parents, occupying their children with a tablet or cell phone for short periods throughout the day provides some much-needed relaxation time. But while it’s often been said that young children shouldn’t spend too much time with their faces glued to screens, a little here and there doesn’t hurt, right? Well, actually, it might… That’s because the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued new guidelines that state children under two should have zero sedentary screen time (that includes TVs, tablets and video games). The limit for two- to four-year-olds, the WHO says, should be an hour a day, and less is always better. In light of the new WHO advice, UK health ministers have said they will not amend their own guidelines, which currently advise no screen time before bedtime, but do not set maximum time limits. The new WHO guidelines are designed to tackle the practice of giving young children screens for entertainment purposes e.g. handing them a cell phone or sitting them down in front of a TV. The reason for this is to combat childhood inactivity, which can lead to obesity-related ill health and is a leading risk factor for global mortality.

Landmark child malaria vaccine rolls out in three African countries

25/04/2019

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries, which resulted in 435,000 deaths – many of which were children. It remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes. That’s why a new vaccine against the deadly mosquito-borne disease is being hailed as a landmark. The first vaccine of its kind, the RTS,S vaccine trains the body’s immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is being given to children as part of a large scale pilot programme being conducted in Malawi. Previous, smaller trials showed that nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month olds who received the RTS,S vaccine were protected from malaria. The vaccine comes at a crucial time as malaria cases appear to be rising once more after decades of success in combatting the disease. Speaking about the pilot, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.” Malawi is the first of three countries, along with Ghana and Kenya, where the vaccine will be rolled out. The aim is to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and below. Malawi, Ghana and Kenya were chosen because despite operating large programmes to tackle malaria, including promoting the use of mosquito nets, they still have high numbers of cases. The RTS,S vaccine has been more than three decades in the making.

Substituting red meat for plant protein reduces heart disease risk

23/04/2019

We recently wrote about how just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk. Now, new research has revealed that replacing red meat with plant protein can reduce heart disease risk. For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted a meta-analysis of trials comparing the effects of meat vs. other diets on our health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. It was an approach that allowed the researchers to not only examine the health effects of red meat, but also see whether substituting red meat for other protein sources brought benefits. Analyzing data from 36 randomized controlled trials, the researchers looked at the blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins of the participants. They then compared these levels with those of people who ate less red meat and more chicken, fish, legumes, soy, nuts, or carbohydrates. They found that while there wasn’t much difference in lipoproteins, blood pressure, or total cholesterol, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. In addition, diets rich in high-quality plant protein led to lower levels of bad cholesterol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. “But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors.”

Just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk

18/04/2019

Consuming even small amounts of red and processed meat each day can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, a new study has found. According to the research led by Oxford University and funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), just one rasher of bacon per day can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Eat three rashers per day (around 50g) and the risk of bowel cancer rises by 20%. While meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, the Department of Health in England advises that anyone who eats more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce their consumption to 70g, the average daily amount consumed in the UK. Processed meat, in particular, has previously been linked to a high likelihood of causing cancer. So foods like bacon, salami, hotdogs and some sausages should not be eaten too much on a daily basis. Also,  high temperature cooking, such as on a barbecue, is also thought to increase a person’s risk of cancer due to the carcinogenic chemicals that are created during the cooking process. For the research, the study team analysed health data from almost half a million people in the UK. Speaking about the findings of the research, Emma Shields, information manager at CRUK, said “This study shows the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cancer and obviously the reverse is true - the less you eat the less likely you are to get bowel cancer.”

Eating vegetables is better than taking supplements, finds research

16/04/2019

Many people do not get all the nutrients they need from food and so take supplements to compensate. It’s something that’s worth an absolute fortune to the companies that produce them, with people spending around $30 billion per year on supplements in the United States alone. But new research shows that nutrients from supplements are not as good as those from food and that the latter is linked to a lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer. According to the research paper, published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine, many people would be much better off spending money on fruit and vegetables instead of supplements. By analysing data from 27,725 participants in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA, found that supplements do not afford the same benefits as eating different foods. For example, getting enough vitamin K from leafy greens and magnesium from legumes, nuts and whole grains was associated with a lower mortality rate. However, consuming 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium in supplement form was associated with a higher cancer risk, while getting excess calcium from food wasn’t. Speaking about the findings of the research, Fang Fang Zhang of Tufts University and study senior author, said: “Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.” In other words, while supplements can help people who cannot get certain nutrients from foods due to allergies, they are not a silver bullet for health.

Just one alcoholic drink a day increases stroke risk

09/04/2019

Previous claims that one or two alcoholic drinks a day doesn’t do any harm and could actually be protective are now in significant jeopardy following the publication of a large genetic study in The Lancet. According to the UK and Chinese researchers who followed 500,000 Chinese people over a 10-year period, the findings of the study are the best evidence yet on the direct effects of alcohol. While the negative health implications of heavy drinking are understood, the impact of consuming small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis has remained unclear. The researchers, from the University of Oxford, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that: drinking one to two alcoholic drinks every day increased stroke risk by 10-15% drinking four alcoholic drinks every day increased stroke risk by 35% For the purposes of the study, one drink was defined as either: a small glass of wine a bottle of beer a single measure of spirits In other words, even light-to-moderate drinking can increase blood pressure and a person’s chances of having a stroke. Prof David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, said drinking alcohol on a daily basis gives the “opposite effect of taking a statin” (drugs that are used to lower cholesterol levels). The bottom line, according to Prof Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is the “claims that wine and beer have magical protective effects is not borne out”.  

Is your diet killing you?

04/04/2019

Our daily diets are bigger killers than smoking and account for one in five deaths around the world. In other words, the food you eat could be sending you to an early grave. But which diets are the worst? Well, according to an influential study in The Lancet, salt – whether it be in bread, processed meals or soy sauce – shortens the most lives. The Global Burden of Disease Study used estimates of different countries’ eating habits to determine which diets were shortening the most lives. Here are the three most dangerous diets: Too much salt - three million deaths Too few whole grains - three million deaths Too little fruit - two million deaths Low levels of seeds, nuts, vegetables, fibre and omega-3 from seafood were the other major killers. Speaking to the BBC, Prof Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: “We find that diet is one of the dominant drivers of health around the world, it's really quite profound.” Salt is such a big problem because it significantly increases a person’s blood pressure, which in turn increases their chances of heart attacks and strokes. Around 10 million out of the 11 million diet-related deaths were because of cardiovascular disease, highlighting why diets containing too much salt are such a problem.

Just one hour of brisk walking a week can really benefit people with osteoarthritis

02/04/2019

We’ve only just written about how a low-carb diet may help relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis and now a new study has revealed that just one hour of brisk walking per week can significantly lower mobility-related disability in people with knee osteoarthritis. According to the research, the findings of which appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just one hour of weekly exercise lowered the risk of mobility-related disability in seniors with knee osteoarthritis by 85% and that of daily living disability by nearly 45%. For the study, a team of researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, IL, led by Dorothy Dunlop, Ph.D., analyzed data from more than 1,500 adults. All of the participants were living with osteoarthritis and experienced aches, pain, and stiffness in their lower extremities as a result. However, none of them had a disability prior to the study. Over a period of four years, the researchers monitored the participants’ levels of physical activity. They found that the seniors who got at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week had no trouble performing a range of daily tasks. However, in seniors who did not engage in this much physical activity, 24% could not walk across a street before the traffic lights changed, and 23% struggled to perform their daily morning tasks. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof. Dunlop said: “We hope this new public health finding will motivate an intermediate physical activity goal. One hour a week is a stepping stone for people who are currently inactive. People can start to work toward that.”

A low-carb diet may help relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis

28/03/2019

If you or someone you know suffers with knee osteoarthritis, a new study may provide some hope. One of the most widespread forms of arthritis in the United States, osteoarthritis affects around 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60. Moreover, some estimates say it affects almost 40% of people over the age of 70. What’s worse is there is currently no cure, with doctors and medical professionals usually prescribing painkillers to help alleviate symptoms. Knee replacement surgery is also an option that’s considered. However, a new study led by Robert Sorge, Ph.D., who is the director of the PAIN Collective in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology, has found that a diet low in carbohydrates could help relieve knee osteoarthritis symptoms. Having followed either a low-carb or low-fat diet for 12 weeks, the 21 adults aged 65–75 who had knee osteoarthritis and participated in the study were examined to see what the effect had been. The participants’ functional pain levels were analyzed, as well as their serum blood levels for oxidative stress, both at the beginning of the study and at the end. Participants that followed the low-carb diet had reduced functional pain levels and levels of self-reported pain. Furthermore, they also showed less oxidative stress in their serum blood levels. Speaking about the findings of the study, Sorge said: “Our work shows [that] people can reduce their pain with a change in diet.”

Study finds eating later in the day promotes obesity

26/03/2019

As obesity rates across the world continue to rise, understanding exactly why we put on weight has never been more important. That’s why the findings of a new study, which looked at whether there is an association between when we eat and how much weight we gain, could be very significant. Presenting their findings at the ENDO 2019 conference, which took place in New Orleans, the scientists from the University of Colorado in Denver said there is a link between eating later in the day and having a higher BMI, as well as more body fat. For the study, 31 adults who were either overweight or obese and had an average age of 36 years were closely monitored to assess their sleep, levels of activity, and diet. Interestingly, the study also showed that the participants who ate later in the day still had an average of 7 hours sleep each night, suggesting that lack of sleep may not promote obesity after all. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr. Adnin Zaman, lead author, said “These findings support our overall study, which will look at whether restricting the eating window to earlier on in the day will lower obesity risk.”

Just 10 minutes of gardening each week could lower your risk of death

21/03/2019

If you’re over 40, just 10 minutes of leisurely activity each week could lower your risk of death from multiple causes. That’s the key finding from a recently published study by researchers from China and the United States. According to the study involving 88,140 US adults, even low-level physical activity, such as gardening, can help people live longer lives. Publishing their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers said that even people who spend just a short time each week being physically active have a lower risk of death due to cancer, cardiovascular issues and all-cause mortality. However, participating in more vigorous types of exercise, including running and cycling, affords even greater health benefits. Unlike people who were physically inactive, those who undertook between 10 and 59 minutes of moderate, leisurely exercise each week had an 18% lower risk of death from all causes. Those who were physically active for a little longer (between 150 and 299 minutes per week) had a 31% lower risk of all-cause death. Undertaking over 1,500 minutes of physical activity on a weekly basis resulted in a 46% decrease in overall mortality risk. Furthermore, individuals who opted for more vigorous exercise instead of lighter physical activity had a much lower mortality risk still.

New cholesterol drug could be a game-changer for people who cannot use statins

18/03/2019

A new cholesterol-lowering drug could offer hope for both people who are unable to take statins due to the side effects and for people who statins are ineffective. An international study suggests the drug, called bempedoic acid, helps lower cholesterol in people who continue to have high levels despite taking statins. It is thought that it can also be used for people who are unable to take statins because of the associated side-effects. Publishing their research in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers say they have asked UK and US drug regulators to consider approving the pill for widespread use. Bempedoic acid works by blocking an enzyme in the body that is used to produce cholesterol. For the study, over 1,000 people with cardiovascular disease or a genetic cholesterol condition were given bempedoic acid in addition to their usual cholesterol-lowering medication. About 700 other study participants were given a placebo. After just three months, the group taking bempedoic acid had 17% less bad cholesterol than the group receiving the dummy medication. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Kausik Ray, from Imperial College London, said: “Bempedoic acid could be another addition to the arsenal of cholesterol lowering treatments available to patients. “What we have is a new class of drug that could be given to patients who are already taking statins and could help them further reduce their cholesterol levels and thus potentially cut their risk of heart attacks and strokes.” Bad cholesterol remains one of the main risk factors for heart attacks and strokes across the world.

Italy starts enforcing ‘no vaccine, no school’ policy

14/03/2019

Children in Italy have been told not to go to school unless they can prove they have been properly vaccinated. Any children under six who cannot show that they have received mandatory vaccines will be turned away from school, while parents of older kids (six to 16) risk being fined up to €500 ($566) if they send their unvaccinated children to school. The policy comes as a worrisome decline in vaccines has been seen across Italy and a measles outbreak was witnessed last year. Speaking about the new policy, Health Minister Giulia Grillo said the rules were now simple: “No vaccine, no school.” She added that parents have had adequate time to ensure all their children’s vaccines were up to date by now. Under Italy’s so-called Lorenzin law, children must receive a range of mandatory immunizations before attending school. These include vaccinations for chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. Italian officials say the compulsory vaccine law has led to inoculation rates for measles reaching the 95% population coverage rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the threshold for “herd immunity.” The deadline by which children had to be vaccinated was March 10 (after a previous delay). And despite calls for it to be extended, the Health Minister has stood firm on the issue.

Losing weight can reverse type-2 diabetes, study suggests

07/03/2019

Following a low-calorie diet – even for just a few months – can arrest type-2 diabetes for at least two years, new research suggests. The findings of the study highlight that type-2 diabetes might not necessarily be the life sentence we previously thought. Nearly 300 people with type-2 diabetes in Scotland and Tyneside (in the UK) participated in the study. Half were given standard diabetes care, while the other half were put on a structured weight management programme. After 12 months, 46% of those on the low-calorie programme had successfully reversed their type-2 diabetes. In comparison, just 4% of the study participants given the standard treatment had gone into remission. Two years later, 36% of the study participants on the structured weight management programme were still in remission. “People with type 2 diabetes and healthcare professionals have told us their top research priority is: ‘Can the condition be reversed or cured?’ We can now say, with respect to reversal, that yes it can. Now we must focus on helping people maintain their weight loss and stay in remission for life,” said Prof Mike Lean from Glasgow University, who led the study with Taylor. Type-2 diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise and can lead to serious complications such as amputations, visual problems and heart disease. It is thought that one in 16 adults in the UK is currently living with type-2 diabetes, a condition that is fuelled by obesity. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]  

Long weekend lie-ins do not make up for sleep loss during the week - study

05/03/2019

We all know how important sleep is for our health. But did you know that sleeping poorly during the week and trying to make up for it at weekends does not reverse the damage chronic sleep loss does? According to new research, the findings of which appear in Current Biology, long weekend lie-ins are not enough to undo the damage that sleep loss during the week causes. As one of the study authors, Kenneth Wright, from the University of Colorado Boulder, points out: “The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep-loss-induced disruptions of metabolism.” For the study, researchers recruited 36 young and healthy individuals. Said individuals were then split into three groups: one that got 5 hours' sleep per night both during the week and at weekends; one that got 5 hours' sleep per night during the week, followed by unrestricted sleep at the weekend and then another 2 nights of 5 hours' sleep; and a control group that got up to 9 hours’ sleep every night during both the week and the weekend. All study participants who had restricted sleep during the week gained weight because they tended to snack after dinner. Moreover, even after recharging over the weekend, individuals who went back to restricted sleep during the week continued their after-dinner snacking habit and gained weight. Furthermore, participants who had restricted sleep every night also had lower insulin sensitivity – a marker of poorer than average health. So if you’re in the habit of not sleeping much during the week and trying to make up for it at weekends, you could be detrimentally impacting your health.

Radical Parkinson’s treatment could restore brain cells

28/02/2019

A radical new Parkinson’s treatment that reawakens brain cells damaged by the condition has been tested in people. Patients in the trial were either given the new drug or a placebo. Those who received the drug had it administered via a “port” in the side of their heads which allows it to be delivered directly to their brains. The authors of the study say they saw visual evidence of improvements to the affected areas of the patients’ brains that were given the real drug, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), suggesting that it might help regenerate dying brain cells. After an initial safety study, 35 patients took part in the main trial. Half received monthly infusions of GDNF, while the other half received a placebo. Interestingly, both groups of patients showed improved symptoms at the end of the trial, although the group that received GDNF were the only ones who showed actual brain tissue improvements. Speaking about the findings of the trial, Dr Alan Whone, principal investigator, said: “We've shown with the Pet [positron emission tomography] scans that, having arrived, the drug then engages with its target, dopamine nerve endings, and appears to help damaged cells regenerate or have a biological response.” More research is now needed to see if it was actually GDNF that triggered the patients’ improvements and not a so-called placebo effect, where individuals feel better despite them taking medication with no active ingredient.

Your ability to do push-ups may predict your cardiovascular risk

26/02/2019

How many push-ups (also known as press-ups) can you do? Do you even know? Do you even care? Well maybe you should… That’s because a new study has found that a man’s ability to do push-ups may be a good indicator of their cardiovascular risk. The findings of the study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, may enable physicians to assess cardiovascular risk more easily and more cost effectively. Simply put, the more push-ups a man can do, the lower his cardiovascular risk and vice versa. Speaking about the findings of the study, first author Justin Yang, M.D. said: "Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting.” For the study, researchers measured both the push-up capacity and the submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance of each participant at the beginning. Yearly physical exams and medical questionnaires were then used to gather relevant data. The researchers found that participants who were able to complete over 40 push-ups to begin with had a 96% lower cardiovascular risk than those who could only complete 10 or fewer push-ups. It is still unknown whether the findings of the study also apply to women and men who are older, younger and/or less physically fit than the participants. That’s the study involved 1,104 active male fire fighters with a mean age of 39.6 and mean BMI of 28.7.

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

14/02/2019

Every year, on February 14, people all over the world celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving cards, flowers, chocolates and other special gifts to that special someone in their life. But where does Valentine’s Day have its origins and who was St Valentine? Valentine’s Day is thought to have its roots way back in the third century AD. According to popular belief, Roman Emperor Claudius II was adamant that single men made better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage. In defiance of the Emperor’s orders, a Roman Catholic priest named Valentine carried out secret marriage ceremonies for couples. When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown into jail and condemned to die. While in jail, it is said that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. On February 14, the day he was executed, Valentine sent a letter to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “from your Valentine.” However, it wasn’t until a few hundred years later in around 496 AD that Valentine’s Day actually became a thing. At the time, the Romans held an annual festival in the middle of February known as Lupercalia. Part of the celebrations involved boys drawing the names of girls from a box. The couple would remain boyfriend and girlfriend for the rest of the festival and even get married sometimes. Lupercalia became a Christian celebration and its name was changed to Valentine’s Day to remember the priest (now a saint) who had died all those years before. Ever since, it has been celebrated on February 14 and become synonymous with people showing their feelings to those they love.

Does eating breakfast help or hinder weight loss?

12/02/2019

People all over the world routinely sit down to eat breakfast every day. And while menus and traditions vary depending on where you are, many people are in agreement that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” That’s because it provides the body with the energy and nutrients needed to start the day. But what bearing does eating breakfast each day have when you are trying to lose weight? Well, according to a new study – the findings of which were published in the BMJ - the answer is not a lot at all. In fact, not only did the study find no evidence that eating breakfast aids weight loss, it also found that skipping breakfast doesn’t have a negative effect and isn’t linked to people feeling hungrier. For the study, the team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, analyzed 13 randomized controlled trials. They found that daily calorie intake was higher in individuals who ate breakfast than in those who didn’t. The authors concluded: “Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect.” In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Eating or skipping breakfast has different effects depending on the person’s unique metabolism.

Less sitting, more moving tied to longer life

31/01/2019

People who have sedentary jobs could significantly boost their lifespans by taking short, regular movement breaks, a new study has found. It’s no secret that individuals who spend a lot of time sitting down are more likely to develop certain adverse health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, as well as having increased risk of osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, colon cancer and high blood pressure. However, just a small amount of exercise, the study suggests, could lower the risk of early death. According to the research – the findings of which are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine – individuals who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of early death. For example, workers who had a movement break (involving some low-intensity exercise) every 30 minutes had a 17% lower risk of death than their counterparts who did not have any breaks. Moreover, individuals who broke up periods of sitting every 30 minutes with moderate- to high-intensity exercise lowered their risk of early death by 35%. Speaking about the findings of the research, Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and study lead, said: “If you have a job or lifestyle that involves a lot of sitting, you can lower your risk of early death by moving more often, for as long as you want and as your ability allows — whether that means taking an hour-long high-intensity spin class or choosing lower-intensity activities, like walking.”

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.

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