Behind the headlines

High blood pressure in the elderly

“Treating the over-80s with blood pressure drugs can cut death rates by 21 per cent, study shows” is the headline in the Daily Mail today. It reports that although other studies have suggested that the over-80s may be harmed by medication for high blood pressure, this study found “lowering blood pressure in the over-80s cut their death rate by a fifth and heart attacks by a third”.

Q&A on tomato-based heart pill

Widespread media coverage has been given to the launch of a new pill to prevent heart disease and stroke. The Sun said the pill, called Ateronon, “could save thousands of lives”. The Daily Telegraph said that the new product contains lycopene, a natural compound found in tomatoes that is a powerful antioxidant. The newspaper said the compound prevents cholesterol and the build-up of fatty (atherosclerotic) deposits in arteries.

Baby DVDs effects questioned

Parents who buy educational DVDs to give their toddlers a head start may be doing more harm than good,” the Daily Mail reported. It said a study on a DVD from Disney's Baby Einstein series found it did nothing to boost vocabulary and children who started on the DVDs at a younger age actually had a worse vocabulary.

Caffeine link to miscarriage

Drinking coffee can double the risk of miscarriage reported The Guardian and many other news sources yesterday. “Pregnant women who consumed two or more mugs of coffee a day were twice as likely to miscarry than those who abstained from caffeine,” The Guardian said. The media coverage suggested that pregnant women may wish to reduce or stop drinking drinks containing caffeine, including coffee and tea.

Wheeze and daycare attendance

“Children at nursery less likely to get asthma”, reports The Daily Telegraph. Spending time with other youngsters from the age of six to 12 months “can cut the chance of developing the condition by 70%”, the newspaper says.

Long military deployments may affect mental health

Reports that long periods of overseas deployment in the armed forces are causes of stress, alcoholism, and other domestic problems appeared on the BBC and in several daily newspapers.

Swine flu vaccine predictions

Scientists have published research estimating how effective the swine flu vaccine will at reducing infection rates in the US this autumn. This research involves complex statistical modelling based on what is already known about swine flu and assumptions based on a range of flu vaccination strategies. The study suggests that strategies that aim to vaccinate everyone before the start of an autumn spread of the virus or of a phased vaccination at the onset of an autumn surge are likely to be effective as long as 70% of the population is vaccinated.

Marriage 'can make you fat'

“Marriage trebles the risk of obesity,” the Daily Express has warned. It says that new research shows that once couples marry they are three times as likely to become obese compared with people who live separately.

The 'three minute prostate test'

A three-minute test to diagnose prostate cancer “could save thousands of lives a year”, the Daily Express has said. The technique mixes a small amount of prostate gland fluid with a light-emitting chemical. The amount of light produced indicates levels of the natural substance citrate found in the fluid. Lower citrate levels are found in prostate cancer tissue than in normal prostate tissue.

Paralysis study

“A brain implant has allowed paralysed monkeys to move their limbs by tapping into their thoughts and redirecting the signals to their muscles,” The Guardian reported. The newspaper says this is a major development in the search for treatments for people paralysed due to spinal cord injuries or stroke. It said that there is hope that in the future, disabled people will be able to control of their limbs by using the implant. Several newspapers report different timescales for when the treatment might start being used in humans.

Future hope for portable dialysis

“A new portable kidney dialysis machine could allow patients to move freely, lead normal lives and even sleep through their treatment”, The Guardian reported today.

Infertility claims over IVF children

“Fathers of test tube babies may be passing on their infertility to their sons,” according to The Times.

Music of the heart?

The Daily Telegraph has reported that "music could be used to treat heart attack and stroke victims." The newspaper says that researchers have found that "music with faster tempos increased blood pressure and heart rate, whereas slower music reduced them." If the music stopped, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing were also reduced.

Fibre and pre-eclampsia

“How two slices of brown bread a day protects pregnant women against life threatening pre-eclampsia” is the headline in the Daily Mail. The newspaper discusses the results from a study of more than 1500 women, which suggests that eating a high-fibre diet protects against pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. The lead researcher, Dr Qiu, is quoted as saying that adding two slices of brown bread per day is the equivalent of adding 5g of fibre to the diet.

Managing diabetes cuts heart attacks

“Tighter control of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes may cut their risk of heart problems,” BBC News has reported. The news service said a study pooling data on 33,000 people with type 2 diabetes has shown that intensive control of blood sugar levels cuts heart attacks by 17% and heart disease by 15%.

Less sleep for older people

Researchers have said that “older people may need less sleep than younger people”, The Daily Telegraph reported today. It said that a US study had found that when people were told to sleep for 16 hours a day for several days, those aged between 60 and 72 years managed an average of 7.5 hours sleep compared to nine hours amongst the 18-32 year-olds. The study also found that most of the younger subjects slept much longer during the study than they normally did, which suggested that they usually did not get enough sleep.

Oestrogen skin treatment

“Applying oestrogen to the skin can counteract one of the main effects of ageing”, The Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper said that scientists believe they have found a way to stimulate the body’s production of collagen, the chemical that gives skin its youthful appearance and “plumpness”. Volunteers had a form of oestrogen, oestradiol, applied to areas of skin that were exposed to the sun and areas that were covered up.

Cod liver oil reduces painkiller use

“Two teaspoons of cod liver oil a day can cut the number of powerful painkillers needed to ease the pain of arthritis”, reports the Daily Mail. Patients who were given the supplements “were able to reduce their daily dose of anti-inflammatory drugs”, the newspaper says. These findings are important because the long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs “can double the threat of heart attack and raise the risk of strokes and heart disease”, the Mail adds.

Skunk linked to psychosis

Smokers of the strong ‘skunk’ variety of cannabis are seven times more likely to experience psychosis, according to the Daily Mail.

New technique for heart attacks

“New heart attack operations cuts deaths” is today’s headline in The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper describes the study, which shows how deaths from heart attacks “could be halved” if the clots that cause heart attacks are removed before the surgery to re-open the artery begins.

'Kevin and Perry' hormone

Scientists have found “a ‘Kevin and Perry’ hormone that turns angelic children into foul-tempered teenagers”, the Daily Mail reported. It said a study has found that the hormone, neurokinin B, causes the hormonal surge in adolescence. The paper suggested that understanding the hormone better could lead to new contraceptives and treatments for sex hormone-fuelled diseases such as prostate cancer.

Schizophrenia genes probed

Scientists have unlocked “the secrets of schizophrenia”, according to The Independent. The newspaper says that research has identified thousands of tiny genetic variations which together could account for more than one-third of the inherited risk of schizophrenia.

Hot weather headache

A new study suggests that “hot weather can trigger migraines and other debilitating types of head pain”, reported The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper said the research also found that a drop in air pressure can increase the risk of a headache. The study reportedly looked at 7,054 people who attended casualty with severe head pain, and examined whether the weather conditions in the past three days was linked to the frequency of these headaches. It found that an increase of 5ºC raised the risk of a severe headache within 24 hours by 7.5%.

Kids go for salty food and sugary drinks

“Children who eat a lot of salt also consume more sugary drinks, increasing their risk of obesity”, The Daily Telegraph says today. BBC News also reports that British researchers claim to have found a link between a high salt intake and drinking large quantities of fizzy drinks. The researchers propose that reducing children’s salt intake by half (about three grams a day) would cut out two sugary drinks per week, a total of almost 250 calories.

Diets weighed up

“Low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins, do not work any better than old fashioned calorie counting,” The Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper said that researchers have found that diets in which starchy foods like potatoes and pasta are restricted work no better than diets that have no carbohydrate restrictions.

Heart worry over plastic chemical

“A chemical found in food tins and baby’s bottles has been linked to an increased risk of developing heart problems,” The Daily Telegraph reported. It said that scientists have found that people with high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in their bodies were a third more likely to develop heart disease than those with low levels.

No need to cry over spilt milk

“Wheeze 'link' to baby milk powder”, reads the headline on the BBC News website today. The site reports that a study of 170 workers in a milk powder factory in Thailand has found that extended periods of exposure to the powder “increases the risk of breathing problems, including wheezing and breathlessness”. It goes on to say that mothers and babies are safe because they have low levels of exposure to milk powder, a sentiment that is reinforced by Leanne Male, assistant director of research at Asthma UK.

No such thing as 'safe tanning'

“There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tan – especially from indoor tanning beds”, the Daily Mail reported today. It said that studies in the US found that tanning and cancer both start with DNA damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Achieving a safe tan may therefore be impossible. This story has been prompted by a review by Dr David Fisher, president of the Society of Melanoma Research, and his colleagues about the biological effects of UV radiation, its public health implications, and the commercial interests involved in the promotion of tanning.

Second tumours from cancer drug

A “‘breast cancer wonder drug’ increases the risk of developing another form of breast cancer by 440%”, according to today's newspapers. The Daily Mail's story on tamoxifen says that these secondary cancers are much more dangerous as there are no drugs that specifically target them.

‘Nature v nurture’ IQ debate continues

Breastfeeding in the first few months of life can “boost children’s IQ by seven points”, the Daily Mail and other newspapers reported. The effect only occurs in those who carry a particular genetic variant, but The Independent said that “most babies could potentially benefit from breastfeeding in terms of a raised IQ” as the gene variant is present in 90% of the population.

Warning over car seats for babies

“Parents should keep children in rear facing car seats ‘until the age of four’,” The Daily Telegraph has reported. It said that this would give greater protection in a car crash. According to the newspaper, while parents are currently advised to place babies and young children in rear-facing seats, most children grow out of them by the time they reach around eight months old (about 9kg in weight), at which point it is common to switch children to front-facing seats.

Pregnant exercise 'unsafe'

“Exercise in pregnancy linked to fatal raised blood pressure condition,” The Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper says exercise can raise the risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a condition where mothers have raised blood pressure and protein in the bloodstream shortly before or after birth.

A healthy row at work?

A blazing row with your boss “may be good for your heart”, according to the Daily Mail. The newspaper also said that male workers who do not complain about unfair treatment double their risk of a heart attack.

Middle-aged sex risks Q&A

Adults over 45 years old are taking chances with their sexual health and are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when starting new relationships, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

Screening for premature births

“Early screening of pregnant women could save 'more than 1,000 premature births a year',” is the headline in the Daily Mail. This is based on comments from British obstetrics and gynaecology consultant Dr Ronnie Lamont, who reportedly suggested that “the links between infections and premature birth are so strong that women should be routinely screened around the 15th week of pregnancy – and given antibiotics if needed”. His comments follow a US study in over 100 women, which found that 15% of women who go on to give birth prematurely have amniotic fluid which is infected with bacteria or fungi.

Predicting the biological clock

The Daily Mail today reports on, “the blood test that will set a date for your menopause.” They say scientists are developing a "simple and cheap" test that will measure the level of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH, involved in the development of ovarian follicles that release eggs) in your blood and be able to “predict within two or three years when the menopause will happen,” the newspaper says.

HIV vaccine cuts infection

An experimental HIV vaccine cuts infections by a third, newspapers reported. The Guardian called it a “breakthrough”, and the first evidence of a possible vaccine against AIDS. It said a trial in more than 16,000 men in Thailand found vaccinated men had a 31% lower risk of infection.

Bipolar risk greater for bright children

“You don't have to be bipolar to be a genius – but it helps,” according to The Independent. The newspaper said that a Swedish study of over 700,000 adults found that those who scored top grades at school were “four times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those with average grades”.

Q&A: free prescriptions

From April 2009 people being treated for cancer will be entitled to apply for free prescriptions, even for medication to treat unrelated conditions.

Flu jab in pregnancy protects babies

“Pregnant women are set to be offered flu jabs from next year to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of babies”, says The Daily Telegraph. The paper quotes several sources, one of whom is a member of the government advisory panel the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and says it is now "very likely" that pregnant women will be given the jabs from next year. The Telegraph suggests that advisors first called for pregnant women to be vaccinated in 2006, but the plan was turned down due to concerns that it would not be cost effective because of the huge numbers of women who would need the jab.

Child care link to obesity

"Indulgent grandparents 'overfeed' kids and make them fat," is the headline in the Daily Mail today.

Study shows early treatment could prevent major strokes

Rapid treatment following a mini stroke (a transient ischaemic attack, or TIA) reduces the risk of a major stroke occurring by 80%, newspapers reported. The Daily Mail said that there is a 10% risk of “a major disabling or fatal stroke occurring in the first month” following a TIA, but that this could be reduced by prompt drug treatment, preventing up to 10,000 strokes from occurring annually.

Abortions and risks to future babies

“Women who have abortions are more likely to have premature or low birth weight babies in later life,” the Daily Mail said. It reported on a large review that has found that women who have had a previous termination could be at risk of having a subsequent premature birth or a low birthweight baby.

PMT drug? Not yet

“Discovery raises hopes of drug for PMT,” says the headline in The Daily Telegraph . The newspaper article reports that scientists studying the condition have “isolated a protein linked to the condition, raising hopes that a drug could be developed to block its effects”. The research “may also have benefits for epilepsy sufferers”, the newspaper says.

Sick with envy?

“Keeping up with the Joneses can jeopardise your health,” warns the Daily Mail. It says that research has found that those who feel eclipsed by the success of their friends and neighbours are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, ulcers and high blood pressure.

Breakfast is good

“Breakfasting like a king and dining like a pauper really is the answer to middle-age spread”, the Daily Mail reported January 4 2008. The newspaper said that a study has found that “whether a person has breakfast or not may affect weight gain more than the amount of food eaten throughout the day”.

Ovary cancer genes found

BBC News says that a “flawed gene” has been linked to ovarian cancer. The website says that, by looking at the DNA of 17,000 women, scientists have identified a genetic flaw that can increase the risk of the cancer. Carrying two copies of the identified gene can apparently increase the risk of cancer by 40%, and around 15% of women carry at least one copy of this gene. 

Blood test could predict risk of coronary

A new blood test that measures the levels of a protein called myeloperoxidase (MPO), could identify healthy people who are at risk of a heart attack within the next eight years, The Times reported on July 7 2007. The newspaper said that people with significantly more MPO in the blood than average were about 1½  times more likely to have a heart attack or heart disease within the next eight years.

Abortion and mental health

“Women who have an abortion are 30% more likely to develop a mental illness”, reported The Sunday Telegraph. A recent study has found that women who have an abortion are also three times more likely to develop drug or alcohol addictions compared with other women.

Link between asthma and sweating

“Sweaty people 'less asthma prone'”, is the headline on the BBC News website. Researchers suggest that the ability to sweat may do more than keep the body cool, it may lower the chance of exercise-related asthma. People “who make less sweat, tears and saliva when exercising may have more breathing problems”, the BBC says.

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