Health & Wellness


Steak and hot dogs linked to early death

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Consuming lots of red and processed meats increases the chances of dying within a 10-year period

It gives a new meaning to the phrase "meat is murder": a study of more than half a million Americans has found that consuming steaks, hot dogs and other red and processed meats significantly increased participants' chances of dying during the decade in which they were tracked.

Women who consumed the most red meat - 66 grams (2.3 ounces) per 1000 calories - were roughly 36% more likely to die than women who ate the least red meat - 9.1 grams (0.3 ounces). For men, a similar difference in red meat consumption, upped death rates by 31%.

To put it the other way around, the researchers say that 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women could be prevented if people who eat a lot of red meat cut their consumption.

"This is probably the biggest and most carefully done study on the relationship between diet and mortality that I've seen," says Barry Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study.


HIV-TB 'double trouble' warning

One in four TB deaths is HIV-related, twice as many as previously recognised, experts say.

Co-infection remains a major challenge and more efforts are needed to spot and treat the two conditions in tandem, says the World Health Organization.

HIV and tuberculosis services must be joined up if we are to achieve global disease control, warn disease experts.

Despite TB killing more people with HIV than any other disease, in 2008 only 1% of people with HIV had a TB screen.

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Increasing Number of Americans Have Insufficient Levels of Vitamin D

Average blood levels of vitamin D appear to have decreased in the United States between 1994 and 2004, according to a report in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Clinicians previously believed the major health problems associated with vitamin D deficiency were rickets in children and reduced bone mineral content in adults, conditions reduced by fortifying foods with vitamin D, according to background information in the article. More recently, insufficient vitamin D levels have been associated with cancer, heart disease, infection and suboptimal health overall. Evidence suggests that levels of 30 nanograms per milliliter to 40 nanograms per milliliter may be needed for optimum health.

"Vitamin D supplementation appears to mitigate the incidence and adverse outcomes of these diseases and may reduce all-cause mortality," the authors write. However, currently recommended levels of supplementation - 200 international units per day from birth to age 50, 400 international units per day from age 51 to 70 and 600 international units per day for adults age 71 and older - focus primarily on improving bone health. In addition, decreases in outdoor physical activities and successful campaigns to reduce sun exposure may have contributed to vitamin D insufficiency, since sunlight exposure is a main determinant of vitamin D status in humans.


Gulf War Veterans Display Abnormal Brain Response To Specific Chemicals

A new study by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers is the first to pinpoint damage inside the brains of veterans suffering from Gulf War syndrome - a finding that links the illness to chemical exposures and may lead to diagnostic tests and treatments.

Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study, said the research uncovers and locates areas of the brain that function abnormally. Recent studies had shown evidence of chemical abnormalities and shrinkage of white matter in the brains of veterans exposed to certain toxic chemicals, such as sarin gas during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The research, published in the March issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, enables investigators to visualize exact brain structures affected by these chemical exposures, Dr. Haley said.

"Before this study, we didn't know exactly what parts of the brain were damaged and causing the symptoms in these veterans," he said. "We designed an experiment to test areas of the brain that would have been damaged if the illness was caused by sarin or pesticides, and the results were positive."


Leave No Child Inside

We could improve children's health, reduce crime and build a smarter workforce simply by fully funding parks and recreation at every level of government. Sound crazy? Maybe. But sometimes we miss a simple solution when it is staring us in the face.

We all know that children's chronic health issues -- obesity, ADHD, heart issues, diabetes -- are growing, so much so that Robert Wood Johnson researchers report that the United States has the potential of raising the first generation of children to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

No wonder. Obesity in children increased from about 4 percent in the 1960s to close to 20 percent in 2004. ADHD diagnoses increased by 33 percent between 1997 and 2002. Kids (and adults) are spending less and less time outdoors.


Drinkers' Red Face May Signal Cancer Risk

People whose faces turn red when they drink alcohol may be facing more than embarrassment. The flushing may indicate an increased risk for a deadly throat cancer, researchers report.

The flushing response, which may be accompanied by nausea and a rapid heartbeat, is caused mainly by an inherited deficiency in an enzyme called ALDH2, a trait shared by more than a third of people of East Asian ancestry - Japanese, Chinese or Koreans. As little as half a bottle of beer can trigger the reaction.

The deficiency results in problems in metabolizing alcohol, leading to an accumulation in the body of a toxin called acetaldehyde. People with two copies of the gene responsible have such unpleasant reactions that they are unable to consume large amounts of alcohol. This aversion actually protects them against the increased risk for cancer.

But those with only one copy can develop a tolerance to acetaldehyde and become heavy drinkers.

"What we're trying to do here is raise awareness of this risk factor among doctors and their ALDH2-deficient patients," said Dr. Philip J. Brooks, an investigator with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and an author of the report published on Monday in the journal PLoS Medicine. "It's a pretty serious risk."

Red Flag

Brain differences mark those with depression risk

Chicago, Illinois - People who have a high family risk of developing depression had less brain matter on the right side of their brains on par with losses seen in Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

Brain scans showed a 28-percent thinning in the right cortex -- the outer layer of the brain -- in people who had a family history of depression compared with people who did not.

"The difference was so great that at first we almost didn't believe it. But we checked and re-checked all of our data, and we looked for all possible alternative explanations, and still the difference was there," said Dr. Bradley Peterson of Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.


Aggression Among Pre-school Children Is Primarily Among Males And Worsens With Age, Study Finds

© Credit: Phineas H.
Aggression among pre-school children is linked to the male gender, new research shows.
A study led by Catalan researchers has clearly shown the importance of the first developmental life stages in the development of the symptoms of psychopathological disorders. This research confirms the existence of aggression by pre-school children towards their peers, as well as differences according to age and gender. There is a widespread lack of understanding about this important stage of life, and previous data have shown that 1% of the pre-school age population in Spain already shows symptoms of major depression.

The research project, which is part of a broader study aimed at detecting risk symptoms for the development of pathologies among children between the ages of three and six, has confirmed aggression among pre-school children towards their peers.

The results have been published recently in The Spanish Journal of Psychology, and - as is the case in other European countries - show that this aggression is mostly found in males, and increases with age.


Self-harm: A British disease

Growing wealth inequalities are sparking psychological and physical stress - and now one-third more people are deliberately injuring themselves than five years ago.

The number of people harming themselves deliberately has leapt by a third in the past five years, according to new figures seen by The Independent on Sunday. The biggest rise in self-harm and attempted suicide has been among young women between the ages of 16 and 24 as they struggle to cope with the pressures of modern living in Britain.

There were 97,871 hospital admissions for deliberate self-harm in England in 2007-08 - 4,337 of them for children under the age of 14. Meanwhile, one in eight young women admitted to self-harm in 2007 - an 80 per cent increase since 2000.

According to new research published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the growing gap between rich and poor has led to an increase in mental health problems such as depression and self-harm in countries including the UK and US. People are surrounded by stories about the rich and famous - lifestyles that are unattainable for the majority. These inequalities cause psychological and physical stress which leads to mental and physical health problems, the report concludes.


British scientists set to create synthetic human blood in world first

© Associated Press
Ground-breaking: Scientists want to create blood from embryonic stem cells
British scientists are set to become the first in the world to create synthetic human blood from embryonic stem cells, it emerged today.

The results of the ground-breaking project could provide an unlimited supply of blood for emergency transfusions free of the risk of infection.

Researchers said because stem cells multiply indefinitely, it means it would be possible to produce as much blood as was needed.

The cells can be made from universal donor embryos - the O-negative type - and can be guaranteed to be free of infections because they have never been inside a human.

The three-year project will be led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) and includes NHS Blood and Transplant and the Wellcome Trust, the world's biggest medical research charity.

SNBTS director Professor Marc Turner has been involved in studies investigating how to ensure donated blood is free of the infectious agent behind variant CJD, the human form of 'mad cow' disease, the report said.