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.

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.

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.

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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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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

Child care link to obesity

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

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.

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.

Sweet dreams for coughing children

“Honey is better at treating children’s coughs than an ingredient used in many over-the-counter medicines”, The Daily Telegraph reported today. The Guardian, The Times and Channel 4 news also covered a recent study that found honey was more effective than dextromethorphan - the “active ingredient” in many cough remedies - at cutting the severity and frequency of nighttime coughing and aiding children in getting to sleep.

Mint tea tested as painkiller

“An ancient herbal mint tea from Brazil is as effective at delivering pain relief as commercial medicine,” according to The Guardian.

Exercise 'no relief' for period pain

“Exercise does not help to alleviate period pain, despite it being commonly recommended for women with monthly symptoms,” the BBC reported.

Yoghurt story 'hard to swallow'

A headline in today’s Daily Mail stated: “Yoghurt drinks could beat bugs that pile the weight on.” It said scientists have shown that “bugs that live in our stomachs could be causing us to get fat.” The newspaper said the research could lead to probiotic yoghurts that can combat weight gain.

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.

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”.

Cut out coffee diabetics urged

Diabetics have been urged to cut out coffee, according to a news article in the Daily Mail. The newspaper reports that an American study has shown that “a daily dose of caffeine raises blood sugar by 8 per cent”. They go on to say that drinking caffeine may undermine the effects of medication and that simply giving up drinks containing caffeine may be a way of lowering blood sugar.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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”.

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”.

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.

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.

‘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”.

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.

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.

Side effects of wrinkle fillers

“Wrinkle fillers 'can give you arthritis' warn doctors”, reads the headline in the Daily Mail today. It says that injections of polyalkylimide (PAI) – a “facial filler” used to “improve the appearance of facial features such as lips, cheeks, forehead and lower facial lines between the nose and mouth” – can be associated with severe allergic reactions, even months later. These PAI fillers provide a long-lasting change to facial lines and are injected deeply under the skin. Temporary fillers, such as hyaluronic acid, which are injected just below the skin surface, are more widely used in the UK.

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.

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.

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.

'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.

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.

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