Behind the headlines

Awareness in vegetative patients

"A man who was presumed to be in a vegetative state for five years has answered questions using his thoughts alone", reported The Times. It said the research could allow some patients who are “locked in” by brain injuries to communicate.

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.

Gel heals wounds faster

“A gel that can help wounds heal faster and reduce scarring is being developed by British scientists,” the Daily Mail reported today. Channel 4 and BBC News said that the gel accelerates wound healing by increasing the regeneration of blood vessels around the wound and speeding up tissue reconstruction. They say that it works by suppressing a gene known as osteopontin (OPN), which also triggers scarring. It is believed that the new development could help those who would otherwise have been scarred by their wounds, and also those who suffer internal damage to organ tissue through illness or surgery.

People don't know signs of cancer

Today, several papers and news sources have reported on the widespread lack of cancer knowledge in the UK. The Daily Telegraph says that one in seven of us cannot identify a single cancer symptom, and that as many as 5,000 people a year may be dying unnecessarily due to a lack of awareness about their symptoms.

Early pregnancy complications

“Two or more abortions could more than double chances of a premature birth next time,” the Daily Mail has reported. Numerous news sources have reported on new research that has linked early pregnancy complications to problems later in pregnancy or in subsequent pregnancies.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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%.

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.

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.

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.

Wine drinkers 'live longer'

“Half a glass of wine a day can add five years to your life” The Daily Telegraph has said, claiming that new research shows that that light, long-term consumption boosted longevity, ‘with the biggest increase caused by wine’.

Diet and mental health in teens

A study has found that “teenagers who eat lots of take-aways are more likely to behave badly,” reported the Daily Express. It said that the finding confirms the belief that poor diets are linked to mental health problems. According to the newspaper, the researchers blamed junk food for problems such as depression, aggression and delinquency.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Omega-3 tested on heart patients

“Fish oil may really be an ‘elixir of youth’ because of its effects on our biological ageing,” says The Daily Telegraph.

MS link to brain blood flow tested

Researchers are testing a “radical new theory that multiple sclerosis (MS) is caused by blockages in the veins that drain the brain”, BBC News reported.

Children are not active enough

Children are not meeting the internationally recommended levels of physical exercise, reported The Guardian. “To be healthy and stave off risks of obesity and linked conditions such as diabetes, youngsters are recommended to take an hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise,” the newspaper explained. It suggested that only one in 250 girls and one in 20 boys are getting enough exercise to stay healthy. The Guardian estimated that more than 700,000 children are putting their future health at risk.

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”.

Coffee 'eases exercise pain'

“Coffee before gym session ‘takes the pain out of exercise,’” The Daily Telegraph has reported. The newspaper says that Professor Motl from the University of Illinois, who has studied the relationship between coffee and exercise for years, has demonstrated in new research that coffee consumption can reduce the pain of high-intensity exercise. It is thought that this is due to its effect on receptors in the body, which normally alert the brain to muscle strain.

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.

Cot death risk of shared sofa sleeping

Several newspapers have reported on research into cot deaths, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The Daily Telegraph and The Times report that half of cot deaths “happen when babies are sleeping with their parents”, while the Daily Express says that one in four cot deaths is linked to “swaddling of babies”.

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”.

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.

Are insulin-resistant men less prone to prostate cancer?

Obese men may be less likely to develop prostate cancer, but are more likely to die of the disease if they do develop it, reported The Guardian. These men “have a greater risk of developing one of the most aggressive and life-threatening forms of prostate cancer,” the newspaper explained.

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”.

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.

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.

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