Healthier lifestyles could cut cancer cases by a third

About a third of cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate healthily, exercised more and cut down on alcohol according to new research.

About a third of cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate healthily, exercised more and cut down on alcohol according to new research.Exercise is an important way of keeping fit and cutting body fat, which is linked to the risk of developing cancer

Data from the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that 20,000 cases of breast cancer and about 19,000 cases of bowel cancer could be stopped each year with small changes in lifestyle.

In 2013, there were more than 351,000 new cases of cancer in the UK. The WCRF said 84,000 could have been prevented.

Head of research Dr Rachel Thompson said simple changes to diet and lifestyle could make “a huge difference” in the battle against cancer.

“Even minor adjustments, like 10 to 15 extra minutes of physical activity each day, cutting down on alcohol, or limiting your intake of high calorie foods and sugary drinks, will help decrease your cancer risk,” she said.

She said that after cutting out smoking, being a healthy body weight was the most important thing people could do to cut their risk of getting cancer.

“There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 10 cancers,” she said.

The link between a healthy lifestyle and the risk of developing cancer is well known, and this new data looks at preventable cases in 13 of the UK’s most common cancers.

For example, among men, 9% of cases of advanced prostate cancer could be prevented every year if men were not overweight or obese.

Lung cancer cases could be cut by 15,000 (33%) by getting people to stop smoking.

And 38% of breast cancer cases could be prevented, particularly in postmenopausal women, by increasing physical exercise and reducing body fat.

The WCRF also said that 2,200 cases of kidney cancer and 1,400 cases of pancreatic cancer could be prevented if people adopted a healthier lifestyle.

Prof Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said the UK was currently behind on cancer survival rates compared with other European countries.

He said one major factor was that cancer prevention was not in the public consciousness.

“The link between tobacco and cancer is widely known and readily accepted by the public, but many are not yet fully convinced that healthy eating, regular exercise and not drinking alcohol, can lower your cancer risk.”

People aged 65 to 79 are happiest of all

Sixty five to 79 is the happiest age group for adults, according to Office for National Statistics research.

Sixty five to 79 is the happiest age group for adults, according to Office for National Statistics research.The survey of more than 300,000 adults across the UK found life satisfaction, happiness and feeling life was worthwhile all peaked in that age bracket, but declined in the over 80s.

Those aged 45 to 59 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction, with men on average less satisfied than women. That age group also reported the highest levels of anxiety.

Researchers said one possible reason for the lower happiness and well-being scores among this age group might be the burden of having to care for children and elderly parents at the same time.

The struggle to balance work and family commitments might also be a factor, they said.

Meanwhile, those who were younger or retired had more free time to spend on activities which promoted their well being, the researchers suggested.

Happiness and well-being dropped off again in those over 80, however, with researchers suggesting this could be down to personal circumstances such as poor health, living alone and feelings of loneliness.

The survey asked people to rate out of 10 how happy and how anxious they had felt the day before, how satisfied they were with their life generally, and how much they felt what they did in life was worthwhile.

The published results have been broken down by age, ethnicity, religion, marital status, employment status, religion, and where in the country people live.

They suggested:

  • Married people had the highest levels of happiness, averaging 7.67 out of 10, higher than co-habiting, single, widowed or divorced people
  • People with jobs were happier than unemployed people, with part-time workers the happiest. Of those are were not working, retirees had the highest levels of happiness, followed by students
  • Of those who followed a religion, Hindus were marginally the happiest on average, followed by Christians and Sikhs, while those who followed no religion were the least happy
  • Women on average reported higher levels of anxiety than men, but were more likely report better well being and feel their life was worthwhile
  • People of Arab ethnicity were found to be the most anxious ethnic group, with people of Chinese ethnicity the least anxious
  • Northern Ireland held on to the crown for happiest of the UK’s nations, with people there also most satisfied and most likely to say their life was worthwhile – but also the most anxious; the least happy people were in England, with the North East the unhappiest region

Researchers found a strong link between health and well-being.

People who said their health was very good reported an average life satisfaction rating of 8.01 out of 10, compared with people who said they were in very bad health, whose average rating was just 4.91.

Drinking water doesn’t prevent a hangover, study says

Downing glasses of water after a night of heavy drinking won’t improve your sore head the next day- new Dutch research suggests.

Downing glasses of water after a night of heavy drinking won't improve your sore head the next day- new Dutch research suggests.Instead, a study unfortunately concluded- the only way to prevent a hangover is to drink less alcohol.

More than 800 students were asked how they tried to relieve hangover symptoms, but neither food nor water was found to have any positive effect.

A team of international researchers from the Netherlands and Canada surveyed students’ drinking habits to find out whether hangovers could be eased or if some people were immune to them.

Among 826 Dutch students, 54% ate food after drinking alcohol, including fatty food and heavy breakfasts, in the hope of staving off a hangover.

With the same aim, more than two thirds drank water while drinking alcohol and more than half drank water before going to bed.

Although these groups showed a slight improvement in how they felt compared with those who hadn’t drunk water, there was no real difference in the severity of their hangovers.

Previous research suggests that about 25% of drinkers claim never to get hangovers.

So the researchers questioned 789 Canadian students about their drinking in the previous month and the hangovers they experienced, finding that those who didn’t get a hangover simply consumed “too little alcohol to develop a hangover in the first place”.

Of those students who drank heavily, with an estimated blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.2%, almost no-one was immune to hangovers.

According to lead author Dr Joris Verster, from Utrecht University, the relationship was pretty straightforward.

“The more you drink, the more likely you are to get a hangover.

“Drinking water may help against thirst and a dry mouth, but it will not take away the misery, the headache and the nausea.”

Dr Verster said part of the problem was that scientists still do not know what causes a hangover.

“Research has concluded that it’s not simply dehydration – we know the immune system is involved, but before we know what causes it, it’s very unlikely we’ll find an effective cure.”

He said the next step was to carry out more controlled trials on hangovers.

Dr Michael Bloomfield, from University College, London, said the economic costs of alcohol abuse ran into hundreds of billions of euros every year.

“It’s therefore very important to answer simple questions like, ‘How do you avoid a hangover?’

“Whilst further research is needed, this new research tells us that the answer is simple – drink less.”

The paper is presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Amsterdam.

Cycling to work without a helmet? Please think again

With more people cycling to work in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, the conversation often turns to the dangers of riding in heavy city traffic.

With more people cycling to work in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, the conversation often turns to the dangers of riding in heavy city traffic. I had an interview recently with a lawyer in London who began by apologising for being out of breath. “My wife banned me from riding my bike after three accidents in central London in the space of 12 months,” he explained. “I’ve gotten out of shape.”

I mentioned that I had just walked from Hackney in east London to the City and was surprised at the number of cyclists in the latest reflective and polypropylene cycling gear who were nonetheless weaving in and out of traffic without a helmet.

My lawyer friend laughed knowingly. “I keep a photo on my phone of my cracked helmet to show people what their head might look like when they cycle without one,” he said.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has often sung the praises of cycling to work, and the rental bicycles scattered through the city are even nicknamed “Boris bikes” because of his support for them. But even though Mr Johnson has had a few close calls while cycling, he has refrained from making bicycle helmets mandatory.

I understand that riding in hot weather with a helmet can be uncomfortable, but I think the case for helmets, mandatory or not, is hard to dispute. Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada have adopted compulsory helmet laws and it is clear that cycling deaths declined in the years after those laws were adopted.

Some have pointed out that the number of heart attacks rose in Australia because some cyclists gave up riding to work rather than wear a helmet, but is that really relevant?

The grim fact is that London had already reached eight cycling deaths by June of this year and New York recorded a doubling of fatalities from nine to 18 in 2014. It is true that the number of cyclists is increasing in both cities, which is a good thing, but that does not diminish the avoidable dangers. The victims included a prominent Manhattan surgeon and a neuroscientist, who were not wearing helmets.

Michael Carter, a paediatric neurosurgeon in Bristol, told me recently that he often sees cases of head injuries from bicycle accidents in his hospital’s emergency room that could have been avoided if the cyclists had worn helmets.

“It makes no sense whatsoever to ride without a helmet,” said Dr Carter, who has stopped cycling in the city because of the recent deaths of two friends.

The Cochrane Library, widely accepted as the gold standard for medical research worldwide, looked at bicycle accidents and did a statistical comparison of different studies to see if there were patterns in helmet use.

The review said that three quarters of all fatalities on bicycles result from head injuries. It found that “wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two thirds or more, regardless of whether the crash involved a motor vehicle.”

One solution to the problem of bicycle safety is the creation of dedicated bike lanes, which has happened in Berlin, New York and other cities and should be tried elsewhere. But they do not eliminate the danger entirely and the reasonable response is to wear a helmet, even for short rides.

If the above doesn’t convince you to wear a helmet- also consider that medical insurance payouts are halved if the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet.


Combine fasting and a cardio workout to shed weight quicker

What is the best way to lose weight? This question is particularly relevant when we tend to abandon good dietary habits on holiday and overindulge.

What is the best way to lose weight? This question is particularly relevant when we tend to abandon good dietary habits on holiday and overindulge.Much has been written about the effectiveness of the so-called 5:2 diet, which was popularised by a BBC television programme and involves restricting calories by 75 per cent on two non-consecutive days and then eating normally for the rest of the week.

Another way of implementing this kind of diet, which is known as intermittent fasting, or IF, is to cut back to 500 calories or eliminate food entirely on alternate days.

Intermittent dieting has been well studied and offers all the benefits of eating less, while reducing the problem of sticking with a reduced-calorie intake on a daily basis. After all, you get to eat normally most days. But there is a way to boost the health benefits of this kind of diet and supercharge your weight loss by adding cardio exercise to the mix.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois divided obese volunteers into four groups: one group practised alternate-day fasting; a second group practised endurance exercise three days a week; a third group did both IF and exercise for 12 weeks; and the fourth control group did none.

The results were pretty striking: the combined exercise and IF group lost an average of 6kg, compared with 3kg weight loss for the IF-only group and just 1kg for the exercise group.

Interestingly, not only did the diet-and-exercise combination produce more weight loss, but it also helped the subjects’ blood lipid profiles, which are an indicator of heart attack risk. In the group that did both endurance exercise and restricted calories, so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol decreased 12 per cent from the baseline, while the “good” HDL cholesterol increased by an impressive 18 per cent. The other interventions produced no HDL benefit.

What is interesting about this and similar studies is that there has been a growing consensus that diet is much more important than exercise in maintaining good weight. But it is now clear that the two in combination are much more effective than either approach alone.

In addition, the endurance training in this study, which was performed on exercise bikes and elliptical machines in a gym, lasted 25 minutes and was at just 60 per cent of maximum heart rate, growing incrementally to 75 per cent of the maximum at the end of the study.

Surabhi Bhutani, the postdoctoral researcher who led the study, says this is because the subjects were obese and the researchers wanted to avoid the risk of cardiac problems.

But there is quite a lot of evidence that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, involving short bursts of exercise at close to the maximum heart rate, followed by recovery periods, or slightly longer bursts of cardio exercise at 90 per cent of maximum heart rate, is more effective than slow endurance training. And it has the added benefit of taking less time.


Rise in wellbeing in late 60s- new study finds

The wellbeing of people in their 60s increases as they reach the age of 70, according to a national survey.

The wellbeing of people in their 60s increases as they reach the age of 70, according to a national survey.Participants were asked to rate how confident, cheerful, relaxed and useful they felt in their early 60s and then again aged 68 to 69.

The Medical Research Council survey has tracked the health and wellbeing of 1,700 people since their birth.

When the responses of those aged 60 to 64 were compared to their feelings towards the end of their seventh decade, the survey found there was an overall average improvement in all aspects of wellbeing.

This mirrors the results of previous studies which found that people in their 60s and 70s were more content than those in their 50s.

And a recent large survey of UK adults found those aged 65 to 79 to be the happiest age group. Those aged 45 to 59 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction.

Research shows the better you fit into the personality of your area, the happier you are.

Dr Mai Stafford, the programme leader at the MRC’s unit for lifelong health and ageing at University College London, said it was not yet clear what was behind the rise in wellbeing during people’s 60s.

“We found that one in five experienced a substantial increase in wellbeing in later life, although we also found a smaller group who experienced a substantial decline,” she said.

“The benefit of using a cohort study like this is that we can look at how individuals change over time. We hope this will allow us to pinpoint which common experiences may be linked to an improvement in wellbeing in later life.”

In their 60s and 70s, people are more likely to prioritise social relationships and look after their mental health, she explained.

“By that time you’ve worked out what makes you feel better and what doesn’t.

Although people are living longer, poor health in old age is still a concern. Most survey participants reported having at least one common chronic disease such as arthritis, diabetes or hypertension.

Five tests if you are getting old

Try these simple exercise tests to gauge whether your body has aged beyond your years.

Try these simple exercise tests to gauge whether your body has aged beyond your years.A recent study, published in the Journal of Aging and Health, has linked those of a higher intelligence with the capacity to physically age better.

Researcher Rikke Hodal Meincke tested almost 3,000 middle aged men, using simple mobility tests to gauge their physical aptitude, strength and co-ordination. From the results, Meincke believed that she could correctly identify which individuals were more likely to remain independent as they aged.

The tests themselves included rudimentary exercises of balance and speed, the majority of which can easily be completed using household items such as dining chairs – and assessed using just your wristwatch and a measuring tape.

Below are five of the simplest exercises for you to try at home:

1. The Sitting-Rising Test

What are you testing? This simple test, originally published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, is an uncannily accurate predictor of mortality risk. Participants of the original study were found to die at similar ages to the other individuals with their scores – suggesting that the sitting-rising test is a solid determiner of all-cause mortality.

How do you do it? For this test, you will need someone to observe you completing the simple task of standing up from a position sitting cross-legged on the ground, and then sitting back down again. Begin in a sitting position, and try to stand up with the least amount of support that you believe necessary – do not worry about your speed.

Ask your observer to score your ability to rise out of five, and then subsequently sit back down again out of five. For each time you have to use support from your hand, knee or another part of your body, the observer should subtract a point. A total composite score out of ten will be assigned and this will determine which category or group you belong to.

How did you fare?
Poor = 0 – 3
Fair = 3.5 – 5.5
Good = 6 – 7.5
Excellent = 8 – 10

2. The Timed Up and Go Test

What are you testing? This test is used to assess a person’s mobility, and requires the use of both static and dynamic balance. Commonly implemented to test how prone an individual may be to falls, the exercise is nonetheless a good overall indicator of balance.

How do you do it? Wearing normal footwear, you should rise from a seated position on a chair, walk 3 metres (or 10 feet) straight forwards, then return to the chair and sit back down. This should be timed, and from your results you can easily gauge the level of your physical mobility.

How did you fare?
Poor = 10+ seconds
Fair = 8 – 10 seconds
Good = 6 – 7 seconds
Excellent = 4 – 6 seconds

3. The Standing Balance Test

What are you testing? This simple test is proven to be a better indicator of mortality in men than in women. The standing balance test measures your physical capability to balance, bear weight, and the amount of pressure that may be comfortably exerted on your joints.

How do you do it? With eyes closed, you must stand straight and then bend one leg at the knee, so you are standing on one leg with your arms at your sides. Stand in this position for as long as possible, and have an observer time you until you reach 30 seconds.

How did you fare?
Poor = 0 – 7 seconds
Fair = 8 – 20 seconds
Good = 21 – 30 seconds
Excellent = 30+ seconds

4. The Repeated-Rising Test

What are you testing? Similar to the sitting-rising test, but completed using a chair and a repetitive motion, the repeated-rising test is used to gauge both an individual’s aptitude for mobility and their current cardiovascular condition.

How do you do it? Begin the test by sitting in a chair, and then time how long it takes you to stand up out of the chair into straight posture and then sit back down ten times. Divide the number of rises (that is, ten) by the time taken to complete the activity (in minutes, so 15 seconds would be 0.25) for your score.

How did you fare?
Poor = 0 – 10
Fair = 11 – 20
Good = 21 – 35
Excellent = 36+

5. The Gait Speed Test

What are you testing? Gait requires input from the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscular power and joint and cardiovascular health. Because all of these systems are required to coordinate gait, your comfortable gait speed is an indicator of the health of many physiological systems.

How do you do it? Measure out a five metre distance – this will be the timed section. Begin walking a little before this section and end a little after it to ensure a comfortable average gait is being measured. Have someone time you as you walk through the timed section. Repeat this three times and calculated an average time. Dividing this average by five will give you your gait speed.

How did you fare?
Poor = 0 – 0.5
Fair = 0.5 – 1
Good = 1 – 1.5
Excellent = 1.5+


Everyone should take vitamin D supplements

Everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements to counter the lack of sunshine in the UK, government experts are proposing.

 Everyone should take vitamin D pillsThe draft Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition guidelines suggest, from the age of one, 10 microgram pills be taken to ensure people get enough.

Current advice is only at risk groups – including pregnant women, under fives and over 65s – should take supplements.

But as there is no easy way of assessing who is getting enough vitamin D, SACN has proposed a blanket recommendation for everyone because of the benefits it would bring.

However the risk of getting too much vitamin D is considered to be extremely low.

It comes after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises the NHS on treatments, has already suggested vitamin D should be given more widely to counter a hidden epidemics of deficiency.

Official estimates suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels.

People get most of their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on their skin. But the amount in food is small, unlike many other vitamins.

The low level of sunlight during these winter months means people in the UK are at risk.

The NICE guidelines called for more free supplements and for supermarkets to sell low cost tablets.

Deficiency can result in rickets and brittle bones.

Sleep deprivation as bad as smoking

People who get by on too little sleep are just as bad as smokers, and can function as poorly as drunks says a leading neuroscientist.

People who get by on too little sleep are just as bad as smokers, and can function as poorly as drunksProf Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from the University of Oxford, said lack of sleep is damaging the health of the nation, with too many early risers trying to function with brain skills so damaged they could be drunk.

The comments follow studies which suggest that working night shifts speeds up the ageing process, and is linked to increasing risks of cancer, heart disease and type two diabetes.

Prof Foster, director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, called for a change in attitudes towards getting an early night.

“There certainly is a culture of, well I only had five hours of sleep last night how fantastic am I?” he said. “In fact, we should be looking down on those sort of things – in the same way that we frown upon smoking I think we should start to frown upon not taking our sleep seriously.”

The neuroscientist raised concern that sleep deprivation could cause risks not just in jobs such as healthcare and transport, where dangers were obvious, but also could damage the quality of crucial decisions.

“We see this too much with really senior people,” he said. “Lack of sleep damages a whole host of skills – empathy, processing information, ability to handle people, but right at the top of the chain you get overly impulsive, impaired thinking, because of this problem.”

He said many of those who rise before dawn were unaware of just how badly it could affect the functioning of their brain.

“At four o clock in the morning our ability to process information is similar to the amount of alcohol that would make us legally drunk – as bad as if we had a few whiskies or beers,” he said.

Prof Foster said the evidence about the increased health risks posed by nightshifts was compelling.

“The assumption has always been that you adapt to the nightshift that the body clock will map on to the demands of working at night. The really extraordinary findings across a whole range of different studies are that you don’t adapt,” he said, citing research linking night working to a host of diseases.

But he said overall lack of rest was enough to cause lack of attention, accidental “microsleeps” – such as dropping off at the wheel – as well as reduced ability to process thoughts.

Last year French research showed the brains of workers who had done night shifts for about 10 years had aged by an extra 6 and a half years.

Those taking part in the study by the University of Toulouse, found they had lower scores for memory, processing speed and overall brain function than those working normal office hours.

Lack of sleep has been linked with factors such as disrupted metabolism and raised levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, all of which may lead to higher blood pressure and increased stroke risk.

In 2010 a major study found that people who slept for less than six hours each night were 12 per cent more likely to die prematurely – before the age of 65 – than those who slept the recommended six to eight hours a night.

Sugar intake should be halved

Scientists has advised the UK government to halve the current recommended daily intake of sugar.

Scientists has advised the UK government to halve the current recommended daily intake of sugar.Nutrition experts say no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added sugar – about seven teaspoons. Most people consume at least twice this limit.

The government has said it will accept the recommendations and will use them to develop its national strategy on childhood obesity, which is due out later this year.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which advises Public Health England and other government agencies on nutrition, wants the recommended daily intake of sugar to be halved to reduce obesity risk and improve dental health.

Prof Ian Macdonald, chair of the working group of the committee, said: “The evidence is stark – too much sugar is harmful to health and we all need to cut back.”

“The clear and consistent link between a high-sugar diet and conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes is the wake-up call we need to rethink our diet. Cut down on sugars, increase fibre and we’ll all have a better chance of living longer, healthier lives.”

The guidelines, which apply from the age of two, are in line with new World Health Organization proposals.

According to health experts, 5% of daily energy intake is the equivalent of 19g or five sugar cubes for children aged four to six, 24g or six sugar cubes for children aged seven to 10, or seven sugar cubes for those aged 11 and over, based on average diets.

The main sources of sugar in the diet are sweetened drinks and cereal, confectionery, fruit juice, and sugar added at the table.

A single can of fizzy drink contains about nine teaspoons of sugar.

The British Dental Association (BDA) has called on the government to take heed of the latest advice.

Tooth decay is the biggest cause of hospital admissions among young children.

Mick Armstrong, chairman of the BDA, said: “The government now has the evidence and a clear duty to send the strongest possible signal to the food industry that while added sugar might be helping their sales, it is hurting their customers.”

The food industry has said calories in household foods and drinks have been gradually lowered in recent years, including sugar reductions and changes to portion sizes.

It is one thing setting out what people should aspire to eat, quite another making it happen.

Achieving the expected threshold for added sugar – no more than 5% of calories consumed – will be a challenge for government, industry and the public.

Some health campaigners say clearer labelling will be needed so people can see at a glance how many teaspoons of sugar have gone into each portion.

Many health campaigners want to see a tax on sugar, with doctors’ leaders joining the call this week.

The British Medical Association said a 20% levy on sugary drinks would be a step towards the long-term goal of taxing a wide range of products in the fight against obesity.