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People who are religious or spiritual have ‘thicker’ brains which could protect them against depression

1 Jan

They say religion is a matter of the heart – but it seems the shape of our brains could also have a role to play.
Believers or those with a spiritual side have ‘thicker’ sections of brain tissue than other people, a study suggests.
And in welcome news for the faithful, the researchers think that this thickening could also help to stave off depression.
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‘Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this,’ Dr Myrna Weissman, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, told Reuters Health.
‘The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods.’
While the new study suggests a link between brain thickness and spirituality, it cannot say that thicker brain regions cause people to be religious or spiritual, Dr Weissman and her colleagues noted in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
It might hint, however, that being religious can enhance the brain’s resilience against depression in a physical way, they wrote.
Previously, the researchers had found that people who said they were religious or spiritual were at lower risk of depression.
They also found that people at higher risk of depression had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.
For the new study, the researchers twice asked 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 how important religion or spirituality was to them and how often they attended religious services over a five year period.
In addition to being asked about spirituality, the participants’ brains were imaged once to see how thick their cortices were.
All the participants were the children or grandchildren of people who participated in an earlier study about depression.
Some had a family history of depression, so they were considered to be at high risk for the disorder. Others with no history served as a comparison group.
Overall, the researchers found that the importance of religion or spirituality to an individual – but not church attendance – was tied to having a thicker cortex. The link was strongest among those at high risk of depression.
‘What we’re doing now is looking at the stability of it,’ Dr Weissman, who is also chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology Department at New York State Psychiatric Institute, said.
Her team is taking more images of the participants’ brains to see whether the size of the cortex changes with their spirituality.
‘This is a way of replicating and validating the findings,’ she said.
Dr Dan Blazer, the Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina, said the study is very interesting but is still exploratory.
‘I think this tells us it’s an area to look at,’ Dr Blazer, who was not involved in the new study, said. ‘It’s an area of interest but we have to be careful.’
For example, he said there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.
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How too MUCH sleep can make you ill: People who get more than 10 hours a night have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity

4 Oct

Everyone knows that getting too little sleep can be bad for your health, but new research suggests having a regular lie in could be even worse.
Too little sleep and too much shut eye both increase the risk of serious illnesses including diabetes, new research suggests.
A study of more than 50,000 people found those who get too much or too little sleep are more likely to develop a range of physical and psychological conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and obesity.
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People who struggle to sleep for more than six hours a night are at greater risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and mental illness.
On the other hand, scientists claim lots of rest is not necessarily good for health either.
Sleeping for too long carries the same risks as reduced sleep, although the American Academy of Sleep Medicine study found the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes was even higher among people who sleep for a long time.
Getting the ‘optimum’ amount of sleep each night reduces the risk of developing the diseases and can help those who already suffer with health problems common among the over 45s.
Sleep expert Dr Safwan Badr said: ‘A healthy, balanced lifestyle is not limited to diet and fitness – when and how you sleep is just as important as what you eat or how you exercise.
‘It’s critical that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to receive the health benefits of sleep, but this is especially true for those battling a chronic condition.
‘Common sleep illnesses – including sleep apnoea and insomnia – occur frequently in people with a chronic disease and can hinder your ability to sleep soundly.
‘So if you’re waking up exhausted, speak with a sleep physician to see if there’s a problem.
‘If you are diagnosed with a sleep illness, treating it could significantly improve disease symptoms and your quality of life.’
Dr Badr and colleagues analysed health records of 54,000 Americans over the age of 45 for the study published in the journal Sleep.
They found almost a third were classed as ‘short’ sleepers, who said they got six hours or less sleep a night.
Two thirds were classed as ‘optimal’ sleepers who had between seven and nine hours in a 24 hour period, while a small number said they were ‘long’ sleepers – they slept for more than ten hours a day.
They say it shows sleep patterns are associated with psychological, as well as physiological illnesses, the symptoms of which could be alleviated by getting the correct amount of rest each night.
Chronic disease expert Dr Janet Croft at the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said: ‘Some of the relationships between unhealthy sleep durations and chronic diseases were partially explained by frequent mental distress and obesity.
’This suggests that physicians should consider monitoring mental health and body weight in addition to sleep health for patients with chronic diseases.’
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Could statin side effects be a thing of the past? New tests allow scientists to work out who will be affected, paving the way for new treatments

26 Sep

Scientists can now predict which patients will suffer severe side effects when taking statins.
The development could pave the way for the creation of new treatments for heart disease sufferers.
Thousands of people with heart disease suffer severe adverse reactions to some of the main drugs – statins and ACE inhibitors – that are used to treat it.
Now, new research by the University of Dundee suggests that genetic testing could be used to predict these side effects.
‘Statins and ACE inhibitors are the most effective drugs at preventing cardiovascular disease, but they need to be used better,’ said Professor Colin Palmer, from the University of Dundee, who is leading the study.
‘There are millions of people being treated with these drugs in the UK alone and a significant number of them will suffer some pretty nasty reactions.
‘This not only results in harm to the patients but it also leads to the treatment being discontinued and therefore placing them at greater risk of problems arising from heart disease.’
Professor Palmer explained that affordable genome sequencing techniques means it is now possible to identify ‘biomarkers’ which signal whether a patient can take the drugs safely or not.
He is hoping to develop a commercially available clinical test which would allow doctors to easily establish whether it is safe to give a patient the drugs.
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Around one per cent of patients receiving ACE inhibitors – drugs which relax the blood vessels to lower blood pressure – will suffer angioedema, a reaction which causes swelling around the mouth and lips.
About one in 1,000 – taking statins will suffer myopathy, which causes muscle weakness and damage.
With millions of people being prescribed these drugs, it means thousands are suffering these adverse reactions.
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‘We are at a stage in genetic research where the advent of affordable whole genome sequencing gives us new opportunities to see whether people are predisposed to these kinds of reactions when given these drugs,’ said Professor Palmer.
‘If we can successfully identify the genetic factors at play we can then develop a test which could predict a patient’s reaction to the drugs.
‘That would make the drugs far more effective in that we could ensure the right patients are being given the right drugs and not the ones that may cause them pretty serious problems.’

Breakthrough in the fight against flu: Scientists move a step closer to a universal vaccine to protect against new strains of the disease

23 Sep

A Universal flu vaccine to protect against new strains of the bird and swine flu may be a step closer thanks to British research.
For decades the key to creating a vaccine to protect against all forms of flu has eluded scientists.
Current vaccines only target the most common strains by making the immune system produce antibodies to prevent infection.
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But they remain one step behind the virus, which keeps evolving.
However, thanks to a study carried out during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the annual flu season could be reduced and future pandemics prevented.
Scientists at Imperial College London used the outbreak as a ‘unique’ natural experiment to investigate why some people got sick while others did not.
Hundreds of staff and students donated blood samples as the pandemic took off and were then monitored over the next two flu seasons.
Those who did not get sick had more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, in their blood at the start of the pandemic, the study found.
A new vaccine would work by prompting the body to produce these cells to fend off the virus.
Professor Ajit Lalvani from the National Heart and Lung Institute said the discovery has provided the ‘blueprint’ for a vaccine, adding: ‘New strains of flu are continuously emerging, some of which are deadly, and so the holy grail is to create a universal vaccine that would be effective against all strains of flu.
Influenza kills between 250,000 and 500,000 globally per year, according to the World Health Organisation.
The ICL announcement comes after scientists in America said they thought they might have developed ‘universal’ protection against the killer virus.
Speaking in May, the US researchers said the vaccine was created by a team working for US healthcare company Sanofi using techniques that have also raised hopes of a new generation of vaccines against other diseases.
Prof Lalvani’s team recruited 342 staff and students at Imperial to take part in their study in autumn 2009, following the outbreak of the flu.
Volunteers donated blood samples and were given nasal swabs, supplying regular updated information about their health.
Researchers found those who fell more severely ill with flu had fewer CD8 T cells in their blood, and those who caught flu but had no symptoms or only mild symptoms had more of these cells.
Prof Lalvani said: ‘Our findings suggest that by making the body produce more of this specific type of CD8 T cell, you can protect people against symptomatic illness. This provides the blueprint for developing a universal flu vaccine.
‘We already know how to stimulate the immune system to make CD8 T cells by vaccination.
‘Now that we know these T cells may protect, we can design a vaccine to prevent people getting symptoms and transmitting infection to others.
‘This could curb seasonal flu annually and protect people against future pandemics.’
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38 minutes of exercise every day ‘cuts cancer of the womb risk by half’

14 Sep

article-0-0000E15A00000CB2-487_306x432 article-2417047-0A670528000005DC-161_634x419Keeping active for half an hour a day can reduce the risk of cancer of the womb by nearly half, according to a study.
Just 38 minutes of daily physical activity, combined with maintaining a healthy weight, could help to prevent 44 per cent of new cases in Britain.
The World Cancer Research Fund’s Continuous Update Project found strong evidence that about 3,700 cases could be prevented every year.
Only 56 per cent of UK women are active for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and only 39 per cent are a healthy weight.
Womb cancer mostly affects women aged over 60. The most common is endometrial – affecting the womb lining – which is fourth most common of all cancers affecting British women.
Doctor Elisa Bandera, a CUP panel member and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers Cancer Institute in the United States, said: ‘Endometrial cancer is one of the most common cancers among women, but a significant proportion of cases could be prevented every year by maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.
Fellow CUP panel member Professor Hilary Powers, of Sheffield University, said: ‘It is not just the individual who can make changes to reduce their risk of cancer.
‘Governments and other organisations can do a lot to make a healthier lifestyle an easier option for us all.’
Researchers at Imperial College London collated and reviewed all the scientific research available on womb cancer, diet, physical activity and body weight in the first global review since 2007.
An international panel of experts judged the evidence and scientists at WCRF estimated that about 44 per cent of UK cases could be prevented through physical activity and body weight.
Scientists believe there are several reasons for the link between body fat and cancer, such as fat cells releasing hormones that can increase the risk of some cancers.
Regular physical activity can help to keep these hormone levels healthy as well as strengthening the immune system and maintaining a healthy digestive system.
World Cancer Research Fund executive director Karen Sadler said: ‘To reduce the risk of womb and other cancers, World Cancer Research Fund recommends being as lean as possible without becoming underweight and being active for at least 30 minutes every day.
The study also revealed evidence that drinking coffee can cut the risk of womb cancer, but not enough to recommend it as a protection.
Karen Sadler of the WCRF said: ‘The evidence on coffee is very interesting, but a lot more work still needs to be done.’

Women who smoke and have high blood pressure are 20 TIMES more likely to suffer a brain haemorrhage than non-smoking men with low blood pressure

14 Sep

Women who smoke and have high blood pressure are 20 times more likely to have a brain haemorrhage than non-smoking men with healthy blood pressure, new research suggests.
The most common cause of a haemorrhage is a ruptured aneurysm but some aneurysms never rupture – currently doctors are usually unable to tell in advance which ones will and which will not.
This research could help doctors decide which patients are likely to suffer a rupture of their aneurysm and which, therefore, need treatment to prevent a haemorrhage.
The study by Helsinki University Central Hospital and Australian School of Advanced Medicine shows that the risk of a haemorrhage varies hugely depending on certain risk factors – such as gender, smoking and blood pressure.
It shows that women, smokers and people with high blood pressure are the most likely to see their aneurysm rupture.
The study was the largest ever carried out into brain haemorrhage risk factors.
It also identified three new risk factors – previous heart attack, a history of stroke in a person’s mother, and high cholesterol in men.
It had previously been established that lifestyle factors influence the life expectancy of brain haemorrhage survivors, but it has now also been established that they also influence the risk of the haemorrhage occurring in the first place.article-2417852-173D1017000005DC-524_306x423
Previous studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes have an unusually high risk of brain haemorrhages that are not caused by ruptured aneurysms.
‘We hope that our studies truly help doctors and patients, and are not only of interest in coffee tables on university campuses,’ says neurosurgeon Professor Miikka Korja, at Macquarie University Hospital, Sydney.
Brain haemorrhages are fatal in 40 to 50 per cent of cases.
If the aneurysm is found before it ruptures, it can be treated to prevent a haemorrhage.
The findings are based on the FINRISK health examination surveys, and were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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Does being fat cause headaches? Obese people are almost TWICE as likely to suffer migraines than those who are slim

14 Sep

Being seriously overweight can nearly double a person’s chances of suffering migraines, a study has found.
The disabling condition affects one in seven adults and costs the UK economy an estimated £2billion a year. Now scientists have found a link with weight.
They discovered that obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraines than those of normal weight.
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Episodic migraines affect the vast majority of sufferers, who have the severe headaches for less than 15 days a month. In contrast, those with chronic migraines feel unwell for more than half the days in the month.
The research suggests that weight loss and exercise could help those who suffer from migraines. The findings also indicated the link between the condition and obesity is stronger in those under the age of 50.
‘Previous studies have shown a link between people with chronic migraines and obesity, but the research has been conflicting on whether that link existed for those with less frequent attacks,’ said researcher Dr Barbara Lee Peterlin, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
‘As obesity is a risk factor that can potentially be modified and since some medications can lead to weight gain or loss, this is important for people with migraines and their doctors.’
For the study, 3,862 people with an average age of 47 filled out surveys with information on height, weight and migraines.
A total of 1,044 participants were obese and 188 of the participants had occasional, or episodic, migraine, which is defined as 14 or fewer migraine headaches per month.
Obese people were 81 per cent more likely to have episodic migraine of any frequency as compared to people of healthy weight.
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Dr Peterlin said: ‘These results suggest that doctors should promote healthy lifestyle choices for diet and exercise in people with episodic migraine.
‘More research is needed to evaluate whether weight loss programmes can be helpful in overweight and obese people with episodic migraine.’
The results also showed that the link was stronger in those under 50, when migraine is most prevalent.

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