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Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics commonplace in US - study

17/01/2019

Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is commonplace in the United States, a new study has found. According to the analysis of prescription data for 19.2 million people by researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, 23.2% of all antibiotic prescriptions written in 2016 were inappropriate. The findings of the research published in the British Medical Journal reveal that colds, coughs, and chest infections – all of which are usually caused by viruses - were the top conditions that antibiotics were inappropriately prescribed. Antibiotics are only effective when used to fight illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses. The problem with taking antibiotics inappropriately is that it can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where bacteria are able to survive drugs that once killed them. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approx. 2 million people in the US every year acquire antibiotic resistant infections. As a result, more than 23,000 die. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., said “Antibiotic overuse is still rampant and affects an enormous number of patients. “Despite decades of quality improvement and educational initiatives, providers are still writing antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that would get better on their own.”

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?

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.

Children should not be given decongestants, says review

23/10/2018

Children are more prone to catching colds than adults. In fact, kids get around six to eight colds a year – that’s twice as many as adults. But what are the best remedies for youngsters with a common cold? Well, according to a review of over-the-counter treatments published in The BMJ, there’s little evidence that any of them work, and some, like decongestants, could actually do more harm than good. That’s because decongestants and combination drugs that contain decongestants can cause drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. Furthermore, if they are given to children under the age of 2, they can cause serious complications such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. In reality, there is no cure for the common cold. While it can cause irritating and uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, congestion, sneezing and a raised temperature, after a week or so, they usually go away on their own. So what’s the answer? Saline nasal washes, says Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They can be applied several times a day, with zero side effects, and help to clear mucus from the nasal cavity, reducing congestion. Dr Chodhari advises that cough syrups are not recommended for children because they stop them coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. Also, because antibiotics only work to combat bacterial infections, they do nothing to relieve colds.

Most yoghurts contain more sugar than cola, study finds

20/09/2018

We recently wrote about how foods packed with good bacteria provide no benefits. Now, new research is dragging yoghurts under the spotlight because of the amount of sugar many contain. In fact, according to the research led by Leeds University in the UK, some yoghurts contain more sugar per 100g than cola. Publishing their findings in the journal BMJ Open, the team of researchers said that even organic yoghurts often contain way too much sugar. The only yoghurts, they said, that can be considered low in sugar are natural and Greek-style. For the research, the team analysed 900 different yoghurts on sale in supermarkets in the UK. Perhaps unsurprisingly, yoghurt deserts were found to contain the most sugar (an average of 16.4g per 100g). More surprising, though, are the findings relating to organic yoghurts. That’s because many people see them as a healthy option, not knowing they contain so much sugar. The UK government are trying to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by the public and yoghurts are one of the areas they want to see addressed. This new research underlines why. To be classed as ‘low sugar’ a product needs to contain no more than 5g of sugar per 100g. Just 9% of the yoghurts studied were found to be below this threshold. Dr Bernadette Moore, lead researcher of the study, said: “I think people, including parents, will be surprised to know just how much sugar there is in yoghurt. “My advice would be to buy natural yoghurt and mix in your own fruit.”

Foods packed with good bacteria provide no benefits, study finds

11/09/2018

So-called ‘good bacteria’ that are contained in many popular probiotic drinks are “quite useless,” according to a group of scientists in Israel. Until now, probiotics have been seen as healthy and good for the gut, but the findings of the team from the Weizmann Institute of Science show otherwise. Their study is among the most detailed analyses to date of what happens when we consume probiotics. For their research, the team created a cocktail containing 11 common good bacteria and gave it to 25 healthy volunteers. Samples were then taken from each of the volunteer’s stomachs, as well as their small and large intestines. The scientists were looking to see where the bacteria successfully colonised and whether any changes in the activity of the gut were evident. Publishing their findings in the journal Cell, the scientists said that in half of cases the good bacteria literally went in one end and out the other, without providing any benefits whatsoever. In the rest, they hung around for a bit before being overwhelmed by the bacteria that commonly frequents our bodies. Speaking about the research, Dr Eran Elinav said people should not expect off-the-shelf products to provide them with definitive health benefits. He suggested that the future of probiotics lies in creating bacteria cocktails that are tailored to the specific needs of individuals. “And in that sense just buying probiotics at the supermarket without any tailoring, without any adjustment to the host, at least in part of the population, is quite useless,” he said.

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.

Modern, germ-free lifestyles could be responsible for most common type of child cancer

22/05/2018

The modern, germ-free lifestyles many children lead could be responsible for the most common type of cancer in children - acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - according to one of the UK’s most well-respected scientists. Professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, has been studying for 30 years how the immune system can become cancerous if it is not exposed to enough bugs early in life. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia affects one in 2,000 children and is more common in advanced, affluent societies, suggesting cleaner modern lifestyles could play a defining role. Prof Greaves says the disease happens in three stages: a genetic mutation inside the womb, a lack of exposure to microbes in early life and an immune malfunction and leukaemia in childhood. He believes that it could be possible to prevent the condition. Prof Greaves said: "The research strongly suggests that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has a clear biological cause and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed." Unfortunately, preventing the disease isn’t as simple as exposing children to dirt. They need, according to Prof Greaves, contact with beneficial bacteria. The best way to do this is to give them a safe cocktail of bacteria, such as in a yoghurt drink, that will help boost their immune system. [Related reading: Thumb-suckers and nail-biters less prone to allergies – study]

Cranberry juice for UTIs: ‘Not enough evidence’ says NICE

17/05/2018

Cranberry juice has long been used by people to provide relief from and even treat urine infections. But new draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say there is not enough good evidence, despite people’s experiences, to recommend it as a treatment. Even though some studies have concluded that cranberry juice may be beneficial for people with urine infections, NICE says people should drink plenty of water or fluids and take painkillers instead. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, which is why some people may be prescribed antibiotics to treat them, but these drugs are not always necessary. NICE says that when antibiotics are required, the shortest course possible should be prescribed to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance. Prof Mark Baker, director for the centre of guidelines at NICE, said: "We recognise that the majority of UTIs will require antibiotic treatment, but we need to be smarter with our use of these medicines. "Our new guidance will help healthcare professionals to optimise their use of antibiotics. "This will help to protect these vital medicines and ensure that no one experiences side effects from a treatment they do not need."

Some cinema drinks contain ‘unacceptable’ levels of bacteria

10/05/2018

If you’re a regular cinema-goer, chances are you purchase some snacks and fizzy drinks to accompany each movie you watch. But our blog post today might make you think twice about ordering that fizzy drink on your next visit. That’s because an investigation by a UK TV programme has revealed that a startling number of cinema drinks in the country contain unacceptably high levels of bacteria. According to the investigation by BBC One’s Watchdog programme, fizzy drinks from seven out of 30 cinemas tested were found to have unacceptable bacteria levels. Even more concerning is that traces of the bacteria salmonella were discovered in two drinks served up by one of the cinema chains. Watchdog also says that ice containing unacceptable levels of bacteria was also found. Less than 1,000 units of bacteria per one millilitre of liquid is considered acceptable, but some of the ice tested in one particular cinema branch was found to contain a staggering 10 million bacteria in one millilitre of liquid. Speaking about the programme’s findings, Mr Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: "Ultimately, it's about people cutting corners and it's also about managers, owners of cinemas, managers of cinemas, not taking their responsibilities seriously and potentially keeping on top of the issues."

Drinking alcohol affects the bacteria in a person’s mouth

26/04/2018

Individuals who routinely drink more than one alcoholic beverage every day have an overabundance of bad bacteria and less good bacteria in their mouths, a new study has found. Compared to their non-drinking peers, drinkers have less good, such as Lactobacillales that help protect your gums, and more bad bacteria, such as certain Actinomyces, Bacteroidales, and Neisseria species that can lead to gum disease, heart problems and even some cancers. [Related reading: Regular excess drinking found to shorten life expectancy] Publishing their findings in the science journal Microbiome, the study authors said the acids found in alcoholic drinks could make the oral environment hostile for certain bacteria to grow, hence the lower number of so-called good bacteria. For the study, a group of more than 1,000 individuals had their saliva tested. The group included 270 non-drinkers, 614 moderate drinkers and 160 heavy drinkers. The results show that the drinkers had more Bacteroidales, Actinomyces and Neisseria species of bacteria, all potentially harmful, as well as fewer Lactobacillales, a family of bacteria associated with a reduction of gum inflammation. Talking about the findings of the study, Jiyoung Ahn, the study's senior investigator and an epidemiologist at the NYU School of Medicine, said: "heavy alcohol intake is a known risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including cancers (head and neck, esophagus, colon and breast), liver disease and cardiovascular diseases."

Tuberculosis rates in England have fallen by a third in six years

02/04/2018

New figures show that rates of tuberculosis (TB) in England are at their lowest level in 35 years, having fallen by a third in the last six years. According to data from Public Health England, tuberculosis rates have declined by 38% since 2012. In fact, there was a 9.3% decline in 2017 alone, highlighting how the country’s efforts to eradicate the disease are proving effective. Improved diagnosis, treatment and awareness are being credited for the decline. However, despite the fall, England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe, with 5,200 people affected in 2017. Dr Sarah Anderson, head of the National TB Office at Public Health England, said: "People often think that TB is a Victorian disease that is no longer a problem in England, but in fact it still affects over 5,000 people a year and there is still a lot to do until the target to eliminate TB is met.” TB is a bacterial infection that primarily affects a person’s lungs and it is spread through coughs and sneezes. But despite its infectious nature, it is actually quite difficult to catch. Nevertheless, it can be fatal if left untreated. Another issue is that TB is becoming resistant to some of the major drugs used to treat it, which is why the BCG vaccine that offers protection against TB is recommended for babies, children and adults alike who are at risk of catching the disease.

Platypus milk could be used to develop new superbug-killing antibiotics

20/03/2018

Last month, we reported how scientists in the US had found superbug-killing antibiotics in soil. While that might have seemed an unlikely place to find something that has the potential to save countless lives, where scientists have now discovered powerful proteins capable of fighting superbugs is even stranger. Back in 2010, Australian scientists found that platypus milk contains a potent protein which is able to fight superbugs. As if Platypuses weren’t weird enough, what with their duck's beaks, venomous feet and the fact they’re mammals that lay eggs, their potentially beneficial milk only adds to their uniqueness. While it’s been years since scientists made the discovery, it’s only now that they understand why platypus milk is so good at fighting superbugs. Being monotremes, platypuses lay eggs and produce milk. However, they don’t have nipples and instead secrete milk through pores along their stomachs. It is this strange feeding system that is thought to give platypus milk its antibacterial properties, according to scientists. Dr Janet Newman, from Australia's national science agency CSIRO, said: “Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry.” While mammal milk is usually secreted via the animal’s nipples and remains sterile, platypus milk is decidedly dirtier. That’s why scientists think it contains unique antibacterial properties. Scientists hope the milk can be used to develop new antibiotics that can help fight superbugs.

New Superbug-killing antibiotics found in soil

15/02/2018

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

Rest not antibiotics, say health officials

26/10/2017

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

New test could speed up meningitis diagnoses, save lives

31/08/2017

A new meningitis test that can provide results within 60 minutes, expediting diagnoses and saving more lives, has started to be used by an A&E department in a hospital in Northern Ireland. Researchers say that the new test will allow doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to treat patients fast and accurately, rather than "just in case". A positive meningitis diagnosis can take up to two days, yet infections can overwhelm a person’s body and kill in just hours, which is why fast treatment is so crucial. Furthermore, symptoms may not be obvious until it is too late. Doctors currently have to rely on clinical judging to decide whether antibiotics should be urgently administered and tend to err on the side caution, meaning some patients receive drugs that they don’t necessarily need. The rapid LAMP (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples will be trialled over a two-year period at the hospital and used to help doctors see if their clinical hunches are correct.  Antibiotics will also still be used during the pilot as an extra precaution when doctors determine they are needed. Researcher Dr Tom Waterfield from Queen's University, Belfast, said the LAMP test could also help spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net. "With the best will in the world you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial. "The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis".

Scientists develop ultra-tough antibiotic to help fight superbugs

01/06/2017

Scientists in the United States have re-engineered a crucial antibiotic in the hope that it will be able to wipe out some of the world’s most deadly superbugs. According to the PNAS journal, the new version of vancomycin is a thousand times more potent than the old drug and fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much more difficult for bugs to dodge. Despite the fact it hasn’t been tested on animals or people yet, the Scripps Research Institute team behind the drug hope it will be ready for use within five years if it passes more tests. The breakthrough is an important one as many experts have already warned we are on the verge of an “antibiotic Armageddon”, which could see some infections become untreatable with current drugs. One such hard-to-treat infection is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE. While some antibiotics do work against it, 60-year-old drug vancomycin is now powerless. That’s one of the reasons the team from Scripps set out to boost its potency and killing ability. Prof Nigel Brown of the Microbiology Society said: "This development could be hugely important. "Vancomycin is an antibiotic of last resort against some serious infections. There has been great concern that resistance has been emerging."

Buying meds online puts health at risk, says health watchdog

07/03/2017

People should be cautious when purchasing medications online after an investigation uncovered "widespread failings" at some Internet-based providers, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has said. The independent regulator of health and social care in England inspected 11 internet prescription services in the country and found some "potentially presenting a significant risk to patients". Despite some providers being well-run, others were cutting corners, according to the CQC investigation. For example, two online providers - Treated.com and MD Direct - did little or no checking of patients' identities. In addition, they were guilty of inadequate prescribing and gave no assurances that the clinicians working behind the scenes had the qualifications or relevant skills for the roles they were performing. Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Prof Steve Field, the CQC's chief inspector of general practice, said: ""Some of these websites prescribed unlicensed medicines and - even more worryingly - medicines for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and Lithium for bipolar disorder." The CQC has now drawn up a set of clear standards for online pharmacies. Going forward, all Internet-based providers must: verify that a patient is who they say they are, such as through a Skype check obtain a comprehensive and up-to-date medical history ensure patients truly understand what medicines they are being given seek permission to contact a patient's GP One of the biggest problems cited with antibiotics being sold online is that some people treat them like sweets. More discipline is needed if we are to prevent the so-called antibiotic apocalypse - where bacteria become resistant to more and more drugs - from happening.

A Mediterranean diet with lashings of virgin olive oil may help protect the heart

14/02/2017

A Mediterranean-inspired meal with lashings of virgin olive oil may help to protect your heart, according to new research. Cholesterol is carried around the blood by two different types of molecules called lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). You'll most likely know LDL as "bad cholesterol". That's because high levels of LDL can lead to plaque building up in arteries, which can result in heart disease and stroke. HDL, on the other hand, the so-called "good bacteria", actually absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it is flushed from the body. That's why having high levels of HDL can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean diet can protect against the development of heart disease as it improves the lipid profile of HDLs. The new research - which was led by Montserrat Fitó, Ph.D., coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain - aimed to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil or nuts over a long period of time would improve the beneficial properties of HDL in humans. Fitó's team randomly selected a total of 296 people who already had a high risk of heart disease and were participating in a separate study. They had an average age of 66 and were assigned to one of three diets for a year. They found that the individuals on the Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil had improved HDL functions. "Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our 'good cholesterol' work in a more complete way," said Fitó.

Laser Prostate Cancer Treatment Hailed as 'Truly Transformative'

30/12/2016

A new treatment for early stage prostate cancer has been described as "truly transformative" by surgeons. The approach, which has been tested across Europe, uses lasers and a drug made from deep sea bacteria to eliminate tumours, without any severe side effects. The results of clinical trials on some 413 men, which were published in The Lancet Oncology, showed nearly half of them had no remaining trace of cancer. One of the biggest issues for men with early stage prostate cancer is that treatment often leads to lifelong impotence and incontinence. That's why many men choose the "wait and see" approach when they are diagnosed in the early stages and only opt for treatment if their cancer starts growing aggressively. These new findings turn that approach on its head and "change everything," according to Prof Mark Emberton, who tested the technique at University College London. The bacteria that the drug is made from live in total darkness and become toxic when exposed to light. This is how the new treatment works. Fibre optic lasers are inserted through the perineum (the gap between the anus and the testes) and into the cancerous prostate gland. When they are activated the drug kills the cancer and leaves the healthy prostate behind. While the fact that 49% of patients went into complete remission is remarkable in itself, the additional finding that impact on sexual activity and urination lasted for no more than three months makes the treatment even more amazing. Even though more research is needed, the findings of the study are being hailed as "truly transformative" for prostate cancer patients.

Predatory Bacteria Can Devastate Superbug Populations

24/11/2016

The fight against superbugs could have a new ally in predatory bacteria, according to researchers in the UK. Animal studies, the results of which were published in the journal Current Biology, showed that an injection of Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus acted like a "living antibiotic" to help clear an otherwise lethal infection. The studies also showed that there would be no side effects. Experts said the "unusual" approach should not be overlooked. Bdellovibrio is a fast-swimming bacterium that finds its way inside other bacteria and eats their insides, causing it to swell in size. Once it has finished gorging, Bdellovibrio replicates and bursts out of its now dead host. The research teams from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham tested to see what impact Bdellovibrio would have on Shigella, a common cause of food poisoning which more than a million people each year die from. Their laboratory tests showed that Bdellovibrio devastated the population of superbug Shigella 4,000-fold. Commenting on the research, Dr Serge Mostowy, from Imperial College London, said: "It is definitely a creative approach and what is special is the inability of the host to develop resistance." Scientists continue to look for alternatives to antibiotics because of the growing levels of bacteria that are becoming resistant to them and to reduce our over reliance on them.

Study: Viruses 'more dangerous' in the mornings

18/08/2016

A new study by the University of Cambridge in the UK has found that viruses are more dangerous when they infect people in the mornings. In fact, the findings of the study, which were published in the medical journal PNAS, show that virus infections that occur in the morning can be up to 10 times more dangerous for the individual. For the study, the Cambridge researchers infected mice at different times of the day with either influenza or herpes. They then looked whether there was any correlation between the time of day when the infection occurred and the potency of the virus. Mice that were infected in the morning were found to have viral levels 10 times higher than those infected in the evening. Unlike bacteria or parasites, viruses rely on the cells of their host to replicate and grow. However, those cells change dramatically throughout the day as part of our 24-hour body clocks. The researchers say their findings could pave the way for stopping pandemics. For example, when faced with a pandemic, it could be life-saving for people to stay inside during the daytime. A virus infection in the evening is like someone trying to hijack a factory once all the workers have gone home. In other words, it's likely to be unsuccessful.

Prototype chlamydia vaccine 'very promising'

21/07/2016

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world and, at present, there is currently no approved vaccine for human use, and condoms are the best form of protection. However, promising new research from Canada published in the journal Vaccine shows that a chlamydia vaccine prototype administered to mice helped the animals fight off the infection. The team of researchers from McMaster University in Ontario gave the mice two doses of the experimental vaccine via their noses. The animals were then exposed to chlamydia bacteria and the researchers found that the vaccinated mice had fewer instances replicating in their systems. Furthermore, the vaccinated mice were found to be less likely to get damaged fallopian tubes as a result of being infected with the bacteria. Prof James Mahony, from the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University, said the results were "very promising". "We will trial the vaccine on other animal models before moving on to human trials," he added. In 2015, there were more than 200,000 chlamydia diagnoses in the UK alone, and over half of those were in young people aged between 15 and 24. Chlamydia often doesn't cause any symptoms, so many people do not even know they have it. If left untreated, it can lead to significant long-term health problems, including infertility, which is why this new prototype vaccine is such an exciting breakthrough.

Cravings for high-calorie foods can be reduced by gut bacteria-based supplement

07/07/2016

Most people get cravings for high-calories foods, such as chocolate and pizza, from time to time. But new research suggests that such cravings can be reduced by consuming a supplement called inulin-propionate ester. Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow found that study participants who drank milkshakes containing the gut bacteria-based supplement were less likely to crave high-calorie foods. Presenting their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers said the supplement works by increasing the amount of propionate in the gut - a compound that is released naturally when a person consumes the fibre inulin, which is found in artichokes, bananas and asparagus. Inulin slows digestion, increase fullness and reduces appetite, and it is already used as a dietary supplement today. For the study, the researchers asked a group of 20 healthy men to drink milkshakes. Half of the group's milkshakes contained inulin-propionate ester, while the other half contained just inulin alone. The researchers then showed the men pictures of different foods; some high calorie, some low calorie. The study participants' brain activities were monitored throughout to see how they reacted to the various pictures. The group that drank the milkshakes containing inulin-propionate ester displayed reduced activity in their brains' reward centres - the caudate and the nucleus accumbens (both associated with food cravings) - but only when they were looking at images of high-calorie foods. In addition to being showed the food images, the men were then given equal-sized bowls of pasta and told to eat as much as they wanted. The inulin-propionate ester group consumed around 10% less than their inulin only counterparts. Dr. Douglas Morrison from the University of Glasgow, who co-authored the study, said that the research illustrates how important gut microbiota signals are for regulating appetite and influencing people's food choices.

The newest weapon against cancer: Immunotherapy

16/06/2016

Our immune systems are able to fight bacteria, viruses and microbes. Therefore, you'd like to think that they could play a vital role in the fight against cancer too. Over the past 30 years, immunotherapy has emerged and grown as a therapeutic strategy in the field of oncology. This new class of cancer treatment harnesses the power of the immune system and its unique properties to fight cancer in a way that is more powerful than many that have come before it. Immunotherapy is also an exciting weapon for fighting cancer because of the potential long-term protection it gives against the disease; the fact that it causes fewer side effects than other traditional therapies; and can benefit more patients with different types of cancer. With this in mind, a team in Toulouse is looking to build upon the already fantastic base that immunotherapy has to make it an even more potent cancer therapy. They are looking to discover which patients respond to the treatment best, and Dr. Michel Attal, managing director of the Cancer Research Centre of Toulouse, said: "This is just the beginning. In the coming years, all cancer patients will, at one time or another, be treated with immunotherapy."

Gum Disease Found to be Associated with Kidney Disease Deaths

23/02/2016

A new study has uncovered further evidence that a close link exists between oral health and chronic diseases; specifically that patients with chronic kidney disease and severe gum disease have a greater risk of death than those with healthy gums. Led by the University of Birmingham in the UK, the study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, found that oral health definitely isn’t just about teeth, again highlighting the importance of good oral hygiene. Iain Chapple, senior author of the study and a professor in periodontology, said: "The mouth is the doorway to the body, rather than a separate organ, and is the access point for bacteria to enter the bloodstream via the gums." For the research, Chapple and his colleagues analysed data from some 13,734 individuals in the US, of which 6% were found to have chronic kidney disease. The team then assessed the link between severe gum disease and mortality in people with chronic kidney disease. They found that over 10 years, the risk of death for people with chronic kidney disease was increased by 9% if they also had periodontitis (severe gum disease). Professor Chapple said that the most worrying fact is that people with periodontitis often don’t know they have it. A little bit of blood when they brush their teeth is often dismissed as normal, but if they don’t have it checked out further they could be risking problems in the rest of their bodies.

Colistin-Resistant Bacteria Discovered in the UK

05/01/2016

When all other antibiotics fail, doctors resort to colistin. This important drug has been somewhat of a safety net in medicine over the years, but that could all be about to change now that bacteria that can resist it have been found in the UK. It’s a discovery that adds further weight to the warning from scientists that we are on the cusp of a post-antibiotic era, especially as similar resistance was found in China just last month. Doctors in the UK thought they had around three years before colistin-resistant bacteria spread from China to the UK, but checks carried out by Public Health England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency have now confirmed similar resistance on three farms and even in some human infections. Public Health England analysed all of the 24,000 bacteria samples it keeps on record and found that 15 of them, including some Salmonella and E. coli samples, were resistant to colistin. In separate tests, the Animal and Plant Health Agency found that colistin-resistant bacteria on three pig farms in the UK. While the discoveries actually aren’t that surprising, especially for scientists, they do highlight how very real the threat of untreatable infections is. The biggest concern is that the resistance to colistin will now find its way into other superbugs, which could make treating them virtually impossible. Professor Alan Johnson, from Public Health England, said: "Our assessment is that the public health risk posed by this gene is currently considered very low, but is subject to ongoing review as more information becomes available. "The organisms identified can be killed by cooking your food properly and all the bacteria we identified with this gene were responsive to other antibiotics, called carbapenems. "We will monitor this closely, and will provide any further public advice as needed."

The Health Benefits of Honey

17/11/2015

Honey is one of the sweetest and most natural food products there is. It’s made by bees through a process of regurgitation and evaporation, then stored as a primary food source in wax honeycombs within the beehive. This is usually from where it is harvested for human consumption. But whether you’re a huge fan of honey, or will happily pass it up, there’s no denying the strong association it has long held with health benefits. First up, there’s the fact that many health experts believe that consuming honey instead of sugar results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels, which in turn helps to regulate your hunger levels. Honey is also recommended as a natural cough remedy by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Academy of Paediatrics. In fact, a 2007 study by Penn State College of Medicine found that honey consumption led to reduced night time coughing and improved sleep quality for children suffering with upper respiratory tract infections. If you suffer with heartburn, you may already know about honey’s effectiveness as a treatment. Experts believe its viscose nature enable it to coat the upper gastroesophageal tract, preventing stomach acid from rising. Lastly, there are honey’s antibacterial properties. It contains the protein defensin-1, which can actually kill bacteria. Furthermore, unpasteurised, raw honey can actually be used as a topical agent on open wounds because of its antibacterial qualities, but should never be used in place of a topical solution prescribed by a doctor.

Study Finds Mediterranean Diet Best for a Healthy Gut

06/10/2015

  The benefits of following a Mediterranean diet have long been advocated by the people who live there, but now new research suggests that it may be true as the region’s food and drink regimen may boost levels of beneficial fatty acids. Produced by bacteria when fibre from dietary plant matter is fermented in the intestine, these so-called “short-chain fatty acids” (SCFAs) are believed to afford a number of health benefits, including a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and inflammatory disease, according to the research which was recently published in the journal Gut. “We provide here tangible evidence of the impact of a healthy diet and a Mediterranean dietary pattern,” wrote the team headed up by Danilo Ercolini, a professor of microbiology at the University of Naples in Italy. The study, which focused on the dietary habits of 153 Italian adults, found higher levels of SCFAs in individuals who were vegans, vegetarians and those who followed a Mediterranean diet, including plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes. While levels of SCFAs can vary naturally according to a person’s age and gender, the findings of the study definitely suggest that a high-fibre diet also boosts them. “The take-away message from this study is to head to your local farmers market, let the produce fill your plate and only use animal-based proteins as condiments,” said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

Study: Placing Catheter Under Collarbone Best for Patients

29/09/2015

A new study has found that a catheter placed in the vein under the collarbone appears to lower the risk of infections and clots in an intensive care unit patient’s bloodstream. In fact, according to the researchers behind the study, it lowered those risks by two to three times in comparison to catheters placed in other areas, such as the large vein in the groin or the jugular vein in the neck. Catheter-related infections usually occur as a result of bacteria on the skin which attach themselves to it as it’s inserted and find their way into the patient’s bloodstream. Despite placing a catheter in the vein under the collarbone being the preferred method, according to the study, a lot depends on the skill of the individual placing it. Ultrasound is inevitably used to guide the procedure and this reduces the risk of a patient encountering a problem like a collapsed lung. Lead researcher Dr. Jean-Jacques Parienti, from the department of biostatistics and clinical research at the Cote de Nacre University Hospital in Caen, France, said: "The [under the collarbone] route is the safest for the patient, provided that everything is done to reduce the risk of mechanical complications during insertion." The findings of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on September 24.   Photo via: National Cancer Institute 

Benefits of Fish Oil Highlighted in New Study

04/09/2015

New research suggests that the impact of dietary fats on our overall health is likely to be affected by the changes they cause in the stomach’s bacteria ecosystem. The findings, which were obtained by studies in mice, show that diets rich in omega-3 fats, such as fish oil, affect the gut’s balance of bacteria differently to diets rich in lard. Senior researcher Professor Fredrik Bäckhed, from the University of Gothenburg’s faculty of Health Sciences, also known as the Sahlgrenska Academy, led the team of European researchers who discovered that changes in gut microbiota are responsible for some of their health benefits. “We wanted to determine whether gut microbes directly contribute to the metabolic differences associated with diets rich in healthy and unhealthy fats,” said first study author Robert Caesar from the University of Gothenburg. And, even though the study was done in mice, he said: “our goal is to identify interventions for optimising metabolic health in humans.” Writing in the journal Cell Metabolism, Bäckhed’s team said they obtained their results by feeding either lard or fish oil to a group of mice for a period of 11 weeks. They then monitored the metabolic health of the study mice and found that dietary fat is a major community structure driver, which in turn affects the composition and diversity of gut microbiota. “We were surprised that the lard and the fish oil diet, despite having the same energy content and the same amount of dietary fibre—which is the primary energy source for the gut bacteria—resulted in fundamentally different gut microbiota communities and that the microbiota per se had such large effects on health,” said Bäckhed. Increased lard consumption promoted the growth of Bilophila, bacteria often linked to gut inflammation. In contrast, the fish oil diet increased the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila, bacteria known to reduce weight gain and improve glucose metabolism in mice. The bottom line is that eating a diet rich in fish oils is, as the study suggests, going to help you lose weight, compared to a diet rich in lard.    

Essential Vitamin Triggers Acne, says Study

30/06/2015

  A new study has found that the essential vitamin B12 could trigger outbreaks of acne in susceptible people. The essential nutrient, which is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, is thought to alter the activity of skin bacteria and that leads to spots and pimples appearing on the skin. Now you may be thinking that this sounds familiar and that’s because vitamin pills have long been associated with acne flare-ups, but until now this phenomenon remained unexplained. It’s hoped that the findings of the research will now lead to the development of new acne treatments and reveal more about why some people develop spots when they take vitamin B12 supplements. The study found that the vitamin affects the metabolism of the bacteria that causes acne. As a result, it secretes an inflammatory compound which triggers spots. The US-based team, led by Dr Huiyang Li, from the University of California, reported their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine: “Our findings suggest a new bacterial pathogenesis pathway in acne and provide one molecular explanation for the long-standing clinical observation that vitamin B12 supplementation leads to acne development in a subset of individuals. “Our study... provided evidence that... interactions between the host and the skin microbiota play essential roles in disease development.”   Photo credit: Zliving 

New Blood Test Could End Our Unsustainable Antibiotic Culture

24/03/2015

When it comes to deciphering which bug is responsible for an infection, doctors have historically faced many challenges. While routine tests are available, they can sometimes take days to definitively identify the exact bug and usually involve growing cultures in a laboratory. But now, a new blood test has been developed that can determine whether an infection is being caused by bacteria or a virus and the results are available within two hours. Despite still being at a laboratory stage, the potential of the new test has got independent experts excited and if it comes to fruition, it could help tackle a very serious problem: the over-reliance on antibiotics. MeMed worked in collaboration with several teams of scientists from Israel to develop the test and it proved successful - i.e. it correctly identified the cause of an infection – in the majority of some 300 tests cases. The new test works by recognising the protein patterns triggered by viruses and bacteria, but isn’t being seen as a replacement for the traditional role of a physician and their judgement. Virus expert Professor Jonathan Ball from Nottingham University said: "The work addresses a really serious problem. Being able to identify a possible infection early on and then to be able to differentiate between a possible viral or bacterial cause, is important.”

Reasons to choose a healthier lifestyle

08/04/2014

There are many reasons why you should opt to lead a healthy life. Not just for your own benefit, but for that of those around you. In today’s modern life, a combination of lack of time and processed foods are all too commonplace, making it ‘acceptable’ to take the easy road when it comes to your health. But at what cost? The stats say it all - a recent UK Think Tank survey states that the number of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980. But it’s not too late to start leading a healthier lifestyle. By putting simple steps in place, you and your family can enjoy a long and healthy life together. Top 5 reasons to choose a healthier lifestyle: 1. To be able to fight infections more easily. By eating a healthy balanced diet your body is getting the full range of nutrients it needs to build a solid defence against harmful bacteria. 2. To have reduced body fat. Eating a healthy balanced diet regularly throughout the day will mean your body is continually getting the right proportion of carbs, fats and protein. This in turn ensures your metabolism runs efficiently without the need to store fat – which can occur through dieting or missed meals – so your body fat levels remain normal. 3. To have more energy. As a result of eating a balanced diet and maintaining normal body fat your energy levels will soar. Your body’s internal organs are being given the correct nutrients to function at an optimum level which in turn keeps you alert, active and energised. 4. To sleep better. When your body remains active and alert throughout the day it will naturally need time to recharge at night, so you get a great night’s sleep! 5. To have reduced stress. A combination of a balanced diet, eating regularly, reducing your body fat and having increased energy levels, will calm the body and mind to reduce stress. Photo credit: © kikkerdirk - Fotolia.com

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