Behind the headlines

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Hunt for the G-spot

“Scientists find the G-spot but not all women have it” is the headline in The Independent. The article it relates to says scientists have found “a thickened area of tissue in those who said they had experienced vaginal orgasms, but not in those who had not”. Many other newspapers and news sources, including the New Scientist, cover the story that an Italian scientist believes he may have found the female G-spot, an elusive and controversial pleasure point, which some women say triggers powerful vaginal orgasms. The Times suggests that this research may also “explain why so many women have searched for their G-spot in vain”, suggesting that not all of them have one.

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.

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.

‘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.

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.

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.

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.

Peanut butter 'good for the heart'

“Peanut butter wards off heart disease,” the Daily Mail has reported. The newspaper said that peanut butter sandwiches could be the secret to beating heart disease after scientists found that snacking on nuts five days a week can halve the risk of a heart attack.

Can being fat be good for you?

“Overweight heart attack victims should stay fat as they are more likely to live longer”, the Daily Mail reported. It said that the controversial claim that being fat can be useful for heart attack patients has come from a review published in a journal.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Obesity and infertility

Levels of obesity in the western world are “soaring” and this may lead to an “infertility crisis” in women, The Guardian reported today. The newspaper continued by saying that couples seeking infertility treatment could double to one in five within the next 5 years, but also that the problem could be eased if women lost weight.

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.

Chocolate good... says choc maker

Dark chocolate cuts levels of stress hormones and rebalances other body chemicals, according to the Daily Mail. The Daily Express also featured the claim that chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and improves brain function.

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