Behind the headlines

Wake up and smell the coffee

“Just the smell of coffee could be enough to wake us up in the morning”, reported The Daily Telegraph today. The newspaper explained that in a study on thirty sleep-deprived rats, brain activity - measured by levels of “messenger molecules” - was boosted in those which had smelt roasted coffee beans compared to those that had not. According to the report, the researchers suggest that this study could lead to factory owners pumping the smell of coffee into their building to revive flagging workers.

High salt in breakfast foods

Extensive coverage has been given today to news that common breakfast foods such as pastries and muffins, contain high levels of “hidden” salt. Many sources, including The Guardian, The Sun and the BBC, said that foods which people commonly think are healthy are not. The Guardian says many people know that fry-ups are unhealthy, but fewer know that pastries from high street coffee chains can contain a significant amount of the recommended daily allowance of six grams. The Sun reports that a Starbucks cinnamon swirl is as salty as two rashers of bacon, and a Costa Coffee muffin has three times more salt than a packet of crisps.

Babies at risk from vitamin E?

New research has shown that “Vitamin E ‘can increase the risk of heart defects in babies,’” says the Daily Mail. The newspaper warns that consuming as little as three-quarters of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E while pregnant can lead to a nine-fold increase the risk of a heart problem at birth.

Combined prostate treatment

Prostate cancer patients should be treated with “radiotherapy as well as hormones” according to The Daily Telegraph.  It reports that scientists recommend that using both treatments should be the standard for tackling the cancer, instead of the current practice prescribing long-term hormone treatment only.

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.

Knee surgery versus physiotherapy

“Knee surgery to treat osteoarthritis may be a waste of time and money”, said The Daily Telegraph today. It explained that the results of new research suggest that physiotherapy and painkillers are just as effective. In this Canadian study, patients who had either arthoscopic surgery or physiotherapy had similar improvements in joint pain and stiffness, and surgery had “no extra benefit”.

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.

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.

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.

Alcohol limits for children

Parents have been advised that children under 15 should never be given alcohol, BBC News reported. It said that Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer (CMO) has warned that children who drink are at risk of serious harm and that childhood should be an ‘alcohol free time’.

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%.

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.

Infertility claims over IVF children

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

Aspirin use in people with diabetes

“A daily aspirin taken to ward off heart attacks could do more harm than good,” the Daily Mail warns. It said that aspirin is often prescribed for diabetics as they are at a much higher risk of heart disease. However, a study in 1,276 diabetics found no benefit from either aspirin or antioxodants in preventing heart attacks. It also increases the risk of internal bleeding. BBC News covered the story, and said people who are at high risk and have already had a heart attack or stroke should continue to take it.

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.

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.

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.

Broccoli and lung health

“Broccoli may ‘help protect lungs’” reported BBC News. It said that research suggests that a compound found in broccoli, sulforaphane, increases the expression (activity) of a gene found in lung cells that protects the organ from damage caused by toxins. The news service said that scientists have found that the gene is less active in the lungs of smokers who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and increasing expression of the gene may lead to useful treatments.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

Are deodorants linked with breast cancer?

Researchers have discovered a new link between breast cancer and deodorants newspapers reported today. Tests which had been carried out on women who had mastectomies found high levels of aluminium, an ingredient found in some deodorants, in their breast tissue.

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.

Biological clock studied

Several newspapers have reported that women will lose around 90% of their eggs by the age of 30. The Daily Telegraph says that by 40 their reservoir of potential eggs will have shrunk to “almost nothing”.

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.

Cystic fibrosis drug

“Drug hope for cystic fibrosis sufferers” is the headline in The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper reports that a new study of a drug, known as PTC124, “bypasses a genetic defect that causes breathing problems [in cystic fibrosis sufferers], leading to a reduction of symptoms”.

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.

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.

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.

‘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.

How just a few minutes wait might make a healthier baby

On 17th August, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph, reported that early cutting of the umbilical cord after birth could be harmful to newborns. The Daily Mail took a more positive stance with the news that a short delay in cutting the cord could actually “improve a newborn’s health”.

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.

'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.

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%.

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.

New IVF test 'trebles chances'

Several newspapers report today on a “dramatic IVF breakthrough” that screens embryos for genetic defects and greatly increases the chance of a woman becoming pregnant.

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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.

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.

Child fitness 'may have declined'

“Sedentary lifestyles are making children less fit - even among those who are not obese,” the BBC reported.

‘Mixed blessing’ of high-dose statins

Statins are a ”mixed blessing” that can cut the risk of stroke, but trigger bleeding in the brain warns the Daily Mail today. The newspaper goes onto say that a study found that “statins can significantly cut the risk of stroke”, but “this benefit was partially undermined by a slight increase in the risk of suffering a haemorrhagic stroke”.

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