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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Looking scared could be protective

“Fearful faces 'spot threats better'” is the headline on Channel 4 News. The Observer also reported on the same study at the weekend, claiming that a team of Canadian neuroscientists had solved the evolutionary mystery of why our faces contort in a certain way when we are scared.

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.

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.

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.

Health after retirement

“Work is good for you, especially after you've retired,” says the Daily Mail. The newspaper and others report that workers who stop working suddenly the moment they reach retirement age are at greater risk of heart attacks, cancer and other major diseases than those who ease their way into old age by taking a part-time job.

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Pet owners and lymphoma

“Owning a pet can reduce the chances developing a form of cancer by nearly a third, researchers claim,” the Daily Mail reported. It said a study of 4,000 US patients found that those who owned a pet were less likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. It also claimed that the longer families owned a pet, the lower the risk. It said that the scientists behind the study believe that pets help protect against the cancer by boosting the immune system.

Does clumsiness affect obesity?

“Awkward youngsters are more likely to shun exercise and team sports which could lead to their long-term weight gain”, The Daily Telegraph reports. It says that researchers examined the results of 11,000 children who had been tested for “poor hand control, coordination and clumsiness”, and compared the results to their BMI at age 33. The study found that clumsy children were twice as likely to become obese as their coordinated classmates.

Meningitis jab recall Q&A

A “toxic vaccine" is a threat to babies, The Independent’s front page reported. It said that health officials had withdrawn more than 20,000 doses of the meningitis C vaccine as some may have been contaminated with the dangerous blood-poisoning bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus. The doses had been sent out "about a week ago" to GP clinics around the country.

Vitamin D in pregnancy

“Women 'should take vitamin D in pregnancy to stave off rickets'” is the headline in The Daily Telegraph today. It suggests that vitamin D supplements may also benefit infants and toddlers. A US study found that “infants who were fed exclusively on breastmilk by mothers who did not take vitamin D supplements were more than 10 times as likely to show signs of a deficiency than bottle-fed babies”. The study found that exposure to the sun, sunscreen use, and skin colouring had no effect on vitamin D deficiency among babies and toddlers.

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.

‘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”.

Coffee and blood flow

A “single espresso a day ‘can damage the heart,’” The Daily Telegraph reported. It said a study has found that one cup is enough to reduce blood flow to the heart by 22% within an hour of being drunk.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

‘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.

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.

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.

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. 

Child fitness 'may have declined'

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

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