The secret of sleep power napping

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers – and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A 30 minute sleep power nap works for pilots and footballers - and you too, says sleep coach Nick Littlehales.

A study by the University of Düsseldorf has shown that even very short naps enhance memory processing, while a Nasa study, looking at their effects on pilots on long flights, reported: “Naps can maintain or improve subsequent performance, physiological and subjective alertness, and mood.”

One of the authors of that report, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US, has said that “a 26 minute nap improves performance in pilots by 34% and alertness by 54%”.

Naps are of critical importance to pilots flying long-haul – they fit one in while the co-pilot takes over, later reaping the benefits of improved alertness. They are a significant performance enhancer for athletes, too, and they can have the same benefits for anyone. A 30-minute nap is the most practical.

If you want to try it yourself, have a coffee beforehand – espresso is a good, quick fix – so that it takes effect towards the end of your nap, or controlled recovery period (CRP). Don’t sip your coffee too slowly, as you might find it’s already taking effect as you begin your CRP, and be aware of the amount of caffeine you have already consumed.

When Nick Littlehales was working with Manchester United in the late 90s, the club introduced double training sessions pre season for the first time, and he suggested creating an environment for the players in which they could relax and have a CRP between sessions to improve their recovery.

Both Alex Ferguson and head physiotherapist Rob Swire supported the idea so they allocated a suitable room for up to 12 players at a time, put in some single sleeper loungers and coached the players on how to use the room.

It was all very basic – no whale noises or essential oils – but it did the job.

It was a key step towards where we are today with sleep recovery, and the players took full advantage with an open mind to day-time sleeping.

The truth is that we can nap anywhere.

The best way is to find a spot where you can make yourself comfortable at some point during the afternoon period – an unused office or meeting room, a quiet corner in the communal kitchen, the sofa in the staff room or even in the park or on a bench, when the weather permits.

Then close your eyes and just let go.

Easier said than done, you might think. Some people will be able to do this and fall asleep promptly. Others, those who steadfastly claim they simply “can’t nap”, won’t be able to fall asleep. But this is one of the revelatory aspects: it doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that you use this period to close your eyes and disconnect from the world for a short while.

Falling asleep is great, but so is catching that place on the verge of sleep, when you’re not quite awake but not quite asleep either. It’s tapping into that point of the day when you’re not really thinking about anything at all, when your mind is a blank.

After a nap, take five minutes to become aware of your surroundings and hydrate. Daylight lamps on your desk or getting out into natural daylight will reduce any inertia quickly, so that you will enjoy all the benefits of a CRP, just like those pilots who took the 26 minute Nasa naps.

Tips on how to change your diet to improve your health

A new book examines what to eat to cut the chances of suffering illnesses linked to western diets

A new book examines what to eat to cut the chances of suffering illnesses linked to western diets

A century ago, the vast majority of deaths were caused by infectious diseases. In the developed world that is no longer the case, thanks to antibiotics, sanitation and clean water. Unfortunately, the main causes of death now are lifestyle related, due especially to the western diet.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the US and Britain. As recently as the 1940s, however, doctors could not find a single case of heart disease in Uganda, which at the time was a relatively undeveloped country. The probable reason?

A diet with far more fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables than we in the west eat.

I have been reading a fascinating new book with the morbid title of How Not to Die by Michael Greger, a doctor in Washington who seems to devote every waking moment to reading thousands of research studies on diet and nutrition.

The book is a distillation of his work for nutritionfacts.org, a website on which Dr Greger passes on diet research. For those who roll their eyes when the media trumpet the latest health news, this is the website to turn to.

The book looks at the 15 main causes of death — heart, lung and brain disease, digestive cancer, infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, blood cancer, kidney disease, breast cancer, suicidal depression, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and being killed by medical treatment — and examines how they relate to what we eat and drink. The second half of the book is devoted to how diet can help prevent some of these issues.

Dr Greger advocates a diet that includes a lot of unprocessed fruits and vegetables as the answer to many of humankind’s ills but he says the book is not just for vegetarians. “The book is for anyone wanting to eat healthier,” he tells me. “I didn’t know any of this stuff before I saw the research.”

For example, many people eat cruciferous vegetables — broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts — for their cancer-preventing properties; did you know, though, that both frozen and cooked broccoli cannot make sulforaphane, a key anti-cancer agent? If you add a little mustard powder to these vegetables after cooking, it restores the enzyme myrosinase, which is needed to make sulforaphane.

Similarly, if you eat oatmeal porridge, adding a pinch of cloves increases the antioxidant benefits and, even better, a small amount of Indian gooseberries, sold as a powder called amla, can reduce blood sugar and bad cholesterol.

Unlike many so-called experts on the internet, Dr Greger is not a fan of supplements, preferring whole foods to pill popping.

In one interesting note, he relates how many older people, especially women after the menopause, have been told to take calcium supplements for their bones. Recent research cited by Dr Greger has shown that supplements can cause a spike in blood calcium, which raises the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

This book brims with valuable insights. Dr Greger tends to rely on the gold standard of medical research — randomised controlled trials — rather than the latest fads. Vegetarian or not, this book is a great way to improve your diet.

Why the government is going sweet on a sugar tax

The UK government in England is expected to publish its long-awaited child obesity strategy.

The UK government in England is expected to publish its long-awaited child obesity strategy.

At the heart of the debate is the merit, or otherwise, of a sugar tax. Health experts have been campaigning hard for one to be introduced – and even the government advisory body Public Health England has put a case for it.

But for much of the time since the election, ministers have been resistant. Until recently. There are now signs they’re coming round to the idea. This much is obvious from the change in tone from the prime minister himself.

Earlier this month, she said he wasn’t ruling out a tax, which is somewhat different from last year’s statements that she “doesn’t see a need” for it.

A similar flip-flopping could be said to have happened over minimum pricing for alcohol (although that is still in the pending box as no final decision has been made).

Conservatives are naturally wary of introducing new taxes and accusations of the nanny state.

So what has influenced government thinking this time? The delay in publication has certainly allowed the experts to mount a vigorous campaign.

As well as the normal array of doctors and health chiefs, TV chef Jamie Oliver has also waded in. He set up an e-petition which saw more than 150,000 people backing a sugar tax.

Meanwhile, NHS bosses have already announced they will be introducing their own “tax” in hospitals.

Understandably, no government wants to get caught on the wrong side of popular opinion.

But I’m also told that ministers have started to be persuaded by the evidence. One in five children is obese by the time they finish primary school. Include those classed as overweight and the figure jumps to one in three.

Children consume three times as much sugar as they should – with a third of that coming from fizzy drinks. And there is evidence it will work. In Mexico, consumption fell by 6% after a tax of 10% was introduced.

But, of course, the obesity strategy is not just about a tax. Other measures, including a crackdown on shop promotions and advertising (again not natural territory for Tories) as well as a sustained drive to reduce the sugar content of food are also in the mix.

There will be measures to get people more active too, although the emphasis will be very much on diet as there is an acknowledgement that without curbing calories there is a limit to what physical activity can do.

It will be, in effect, an acknowledgement that society is geared too much towards unhealthy lifestyles.

This much is clear from the way we consume food. Just look at food promotions, which are heavily weighted towards unhealthy products. About 40% of expenditure on food goes on promotions, causing us to purchase a fifth more than we would have otherwise, according to PHE.

The result is an unhealthy diet. Last week, researchers at the Food Foundation produced a model of the typical family’s diet.

Every member of the average family consumed too much sugar and saturated fat and too little of the good stuff – fibre, fruit and vegetables and oily fish. What is more, all but the youngest members were eating too much red and processed meat and salt.

It’s no wonder that some in the field are describing obesity as the “new smoking” – and ministers are, bit by bit, being convinced.

 

 

 

Can changing your mealtimes make you healthier?

Many people want to eat more healthily but find it difficult to change their diet.

Many people want to eat more healthily but find it difficult to change their diet.

 

We’ve known for some time that altering the time at which you eat can affect your weight and metabolism. At least if you are a mouse.

Based on mice studies, it seems the secret to improving your health is to restrict the time window within which you eat, and by doing so extend the amount of time you go without food.

A few years ago Prof Satchidananda Panda, from the world-famous Salk Institute in California, showed that mice fed on a high fat diet, but only allowed to eat within an eight hour window, were healthier and slimmer than mice that were given exactly the same food but allowed to eat it whenever they wanted.

In a more recent study the same researchers again subjected hundreds of mice to different lengths of daily fasts, ranging from 12 to 15 hours.
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Again they found that the mice that went for at least 12 hours without eating remained healthier and slimmer than those who ate the same number of calories, but spread out.

But how well would this work in humans? To find out, Trust Me I’m a Doctor recruited 16 volunteers for a 10-week study run by Dr Jonathan Johnston at the University of Surrey.

His team measured the volunteers’ body fat, blood sugar levels, blood fat (triglycerides) and cholesterol levels at the start of the study. They were then randomly assigned to one of two groups, the blues or the reds.

The blues, who were the control group, were asked to carry on as normal. The reds were asked to stick to their normal diet but move their breakfast 90 minutes later, and their dinner time 90 minutes earlier.

This meant that for three extra hours each day they went without food (fasting). Everyone kept a food and sleep diary to ensure that they were eating the same amount as normal.

So why would crunching the time within which you eat change anything? Well, there are two possible mechanisms.

Firstly, there are now plenty of studies which have shown that going for longer periods of time without eating – fasting – is beneficial.

It also seems that your body deals with calories better at certain times of day. According to Johnston, one of the worst times to load up with sugar and fat is late at night, when blood levels of these substances are already high.

After an overnight fast I had some bloods taken, then at 10:00 I had a classic British fry-up – lots of bacon, eggs and sausage. I had more bloods taken directly after the meal and every half hour for the next few hours. And yes, it did hurt.

Twelve hours later, at 22:00, I had my second meal of the day. It was exactly the same meal as I had had for breakfast. Again my bloods were taken regularly over the next few hours before I was eventually allowed to crawl into bed.

The blood tests showed that after my morning meal my blood sugar level returned to normal pretty quickly, while the levels of fat in my blood began to drop after about three hours. In the evening, however, after exactly the same meal, my blood sugar levels stayed high for much longer and the fat levels in my blood were still rising four hours after I finished eating.

So Johnston is right – our bodies really don’t like having to have to deal with lots of food late at night. A midnight snack will have a worse impact on your body than the same food eaten earlier in the day.

There’s an old adage: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper,” and it appears to be true. If you must have that fry-up, have it for breakfast.

But what about the main experiment, reducing the time period within which our volunteers were allowed to eat? Well, at the end of 10 weeks, we gathered all the volunteers together and repeated the tests.

What we found is that the group who had eaten breakfast later and dinner earlier had, on average, lost more body fat and seen bigger falls in blood sugar levels and cholesterol than the control group.

So it was very positive result and the first randomised trial of this sort carried out in humans.

Sticking rigidly to a reduced eating window may, for many people, not be entirely practical. But there does seem to be benefit from doing it when you can – and it is certainly a good idea to avoid the midnight cheeseburger.

 

How to spot dementia in a loved one

As families meet up the Alzheimer’s Society is offering advice on recognising early signs of dementia in a loved one.

As families meet up the Alzheimer's Society is offering advice on recognising early signs of dementia in a loved one.

While many realise that repeatedly forgetting names can be a red flag for dementia, few know that using repetitive phrases can also be a sign.

Stuttering or mispronouncing words is another warning.

There are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. And 225,000 more people will develop dementia this year – that’s one every three minutes.

A YouGov survey of more than 4,000 adults reveals many people are confused about what are and are not signs of dementia.

Many people thought that forgetting why you have walked into a room (39%) might be a sign, which could happen to anyone. For a person with dementia, it is not so much why they walked into a room that is troubling, but the room itself seeming unfamiliar.
Warning signs

 

Seek medical advice if your memory loss is affecting daily life and especially if you:

struggle to remember recent events, although you can easily recall things that happened in the past
find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
forget the names of friends or everyday objects
cannot recall things you have heard, seen or read
lose the thread of what you are saying
have problems thinking and reasoning
feel anxious, depressed or angry
feel confused even when in a familiar environment or get lost on familiar journeys
find that other people start to notice or comment on your memory loss

The risk of dementia increases with age with one-in-six of those over 80 having the degenerative disease. But it can strike even in middle age.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know dementia is the most feared illness for many, and there’s no question that it can have a devastating impact on people, their family and friends.”

“It’s important we tackle confusion around what are and aren’t signs of dementia, and help give people confidence in approaching loved ones about their concerns so people don’t delay getting help.”

“Dementia can strip you of connections to the people you love, but we have many services that can help stop that and support you.”

 

 

 

Cancer is not just bad luck but down to environment

Cancer is overwhelmingly a result of environmental factors and not largely down to bad luck, a study suggests.

Cancer is overwhelmingly a result of environmental factors and not largely down to bad luck, a study suggests.

Earlier this year, researchers sparked a debate after suggesting two thirds of cancer types were down to luck rather than factors such as smoking.

The new study, in the journal Nature, used four approaches to conclude only 10-30% of cancers were down to the way the body naturally functions or “luck”.

Experts said the analysis was “pretty convincing”.

Cancer is caused by one of the body’s own stem cells going rogue and dividing out of control.

That can be caused either by intrinsic factors that are part of the innate way the body operates, such as the risk of mutations occurring every time a cell divides, or extrinsic factors such as smoking, UV radiation and many others that have not been identified.

The argument has been about the relative importance of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

In January, a report in the journal Science tried to explain why some tissues were millions of times more vulnerable to developing cancer than others.

Their explanation came down to the number of times a cell divides, which is out of our control and gave rise to the ‘bad luck’ hypothesis.

In the latest study, a team of doctors from the Stony Brook Cancer Centre in New York approached the problem from different angles, including computer modelling, population data and genetic approaches.

They said the results consistently suggested 70-90% of the risk was due to extrinsic factors.

 

Dr Yusuf Hannun, the director of Stony Brook, told the BBC News website: “External factors play a big role, and people cannot hide behind bad luck. They can’t smoke and say it’s bad luck if they have cancer.”

“It is like a revolver, intrinsic risk is one bullet. And if playing Russian roulette, then maybe one in six will get cancer – that’s the intrinsic bad luck. Now, what a smoker does is add two or three more bullets to that revolver. And now, they pull the trigger.”

“There is still an element of luck as not every smoker gets cancer, but they have stacked the odds against them. From a public health point of view, we want to remove as many bullets as possible from the chamber.”

There is still an issue as not all of the extrinsic risk has been identified and not all of it may be avoidable.

Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said: “They do provide pretty convincing evidence that external factors play a major role in many cancers, including some of the most common.

“Even if someone is exposed to important external risk factors, of course it isn’t certain that they will develop a cancer – chance is always involved. But this study demonstrates again that we have to look well beyond pure chance and luck to understand and protect against cancers.”

Dr Emma Smith, from Cancer Research UK, said: “While healthy habits like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol are not a guarantee against cancer, they do dramatically reduce the risk of developing the disease.”

 

 

Smoking linked to earlier menopause

Women who are heavy or habitual smokers are more likely to experience the menopause earlier, a study suggests.

Women who are heavy or habitual smokers are more likely to experience the menopause earlier, a study suggests.

The report, involving 79,000 women, showed those who smoked from the age of 15 went through the menopause on average 21 months earlier than women who did not smoke.

The paper also found a weaker link with prolonged exposure to passive smoke.

Experts say the study adds to growing evidence that toxins in tobacco can harm overall reproductive health.

Writing in the journal Tobacco Control, a team of researchers looked at data from participants in the women’s health initiative observational study.

All women involved in this paper had gone through the menopause when they were recruited to the investigation between 1993 and 1998.

Using questionnaires, they were asked how long they had smoked for, how much they smoked and when they had experienced the menopause.

Comparing smokers with women who had never smoked, researchers found those who said they smoked heavily (more than 25 cigarettes a day) were likely to have faced the menopause 18 months earlier than non-smokers.

And non-smokers who had experienced many years of exposure to passive smoke – for example living with indoor smokers – went through the menopause earlier than non-smokers who were not around tobacco.

Scientists say the findings stood true even when alcohol use, educational backgrounds, oral contraceptive prescriptions and ethnicity were taken into account.

They suggest toxins in tobacco may play a role by disrupting key reproductive hormones, including oestrogen.

And though they cannot be certain of the long-term health consequences of these findings, they point out that previous studies have linked earlier menopause to a risk of earlier death.

But early menopause has also been associated with a lower risk of certain diseases, including breast cancer.

 

 

The psychology of pain relief medicine

The manufacturer of a leading brand of painkiller has been accused of misleading customers in Australia.

The manufacturer of a leading brand of painkiller has been accused of misleading customers in Australia.

But how do people choose over-the-counter pain relief?

There’s a whole range of Nurofen products. There are Nurofen capsules, caplets and “meltlets”. Some are marketed to treat specific problems – Nurofen Migraine Pain or Nurofen Tension Headache.

But Nurofen maker Reckitt Benckiser has been ordered to take some of these “specific pain” products off the shelves in Australia. A court decided they were misleading consumers because the packaging made it seem as though they had been formulated to treat different types of pain. In fact, these products contained the same active ingredient – 342mg of ibuprofen lysine.

Reckitt Benckiser says that they are just meeting demand. They argue that 88% of people look for relief for a specific type of pain. Packaging tablets with clear labels saying “back pain” or “period pain” makes it easier for people to decide which one to get to meet their needs, they add.

But take this scenario. A customer has a packet of Nurofen Migraine Pain in their handbag. They suffer a tension headache. They buy Nurofen Tension Headache. By the Australian court’s view they are completely wasting their money – it’s fundamentally the same medicine in different packaging.

All of these specific pain versions cost about double the price of Nurofen’s standard version in Australia. The formulations used in Nurofen’s specific pain range in Australia contain lysine and sodium. The manufacturer says that this allows them to be absorbed faster than the standard version.

In the UK, similar medication is sold. Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension headache caplets have identical active ingredients. They contain the same 342mg of ibuprofen lysine that is in the Australian versions. But no legal action has been taken against Nurofen in the UK.

When someone swallows a general painkiller such as ibuprofen it’s distributed around the whole body through the bloodstream, says Farrah Sheikh, a GP from Greater Manchester. Painkillers targeting specific areas will treat the areas in pain but they cannot be sent directly to a particular part of the body, Sheikh suggests.

The discrepancy in price between different versions of branded painkiller is arguably no stranger than the variation in price between brands like Nurofen, and the generic equivalents that sit near by them on supermarket shelves. Somebody could walk into a Tesco in the UK and spend £2 on a packet of 16 Nurofen when a packet of 16 generic ibuprofen tablets – an identical drug – is just 30p.

The same situation exists in the US. Some people consistently choose Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (paracetamol) and Bayer aspirin rather than cheaper versions.

But a study found that people with higher levels of knowledge – for examples doctors and pharmacists – were much less likely to buy branded medicine over generics.

“You’re paying for the marketing essentially and the shiny box,” argues Sheikh. She tends to recommend using cheaper generic painkillers, but says that many of her patients are still loyal to certain brands.

The placebo effect could help explain this. “Just knowing that you’ve taken something can make you feel better,” explains Sheikh. Believing in a particular brand can also have a big impact.

In a recent study, researchers gave people with frequent headaches a dummy pill. Some of these placebos were packaged as branded painkillers and some weren’t. The branded ones were reported to be more effective at pain relief by those in the study and were associated with fewer side effects than the placebos packaged as generic medication.

Which painkiller is best?

Paracetamol: Used to treat headaches and most non-nerve pains, side effects are not common and this dose can be taken regularly for long periods, but overdosing can cause serious side effects; if the pain lasts for more than three days, see your GP
Ibuprofen: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen, seem to work better for arthritis or an injury. They should not be used for a long period unless you have inflammation. If you take them for long periods, there’s an increased risk of stomach upset, bleeding, and kidney and heart problems
Aspirin: Produces the same type of side effects as other NSAIDs, but is not as effective as a painkiller, which means it’s not usually prescribed for pain – dangerous for children under 16.

In the UK the colours of the pain killing tablets are different.

Tesco makes its generic ibuprofen silver to match the Nurofen packaging. Its generic aspirin is yellow, the same as Anadin Original. Its generic paracetamol is blue, the same as Panadol’s original paracetamol packaging. In other shops ibuprofen is typically red.

Colours also have an effect on how people feel about the medicine they are taking. Red pills have been reported to be more effective for treating pain than blue, green or white pills. But blue pills make more effective tranquilisers than red ones, except for Italian men. It’s been suggested this could be because blue is associated with their national football team.

Strong colours might help a product stand out from a crowded aisle. But it also pays to have lots of different formulations so that a brand can get as much shelf space as possible.

Even the supermarkets have tried the “specific pain” branding. Sainsbury’s had “migraine relief” and also “tension headache relief” – both 342mg ibuprofen lysine tablets – placed on shelves next to their Nurofen counterparts. The latter is now no longer sold. Anyone taking both in the same day for different types of headaches would have to be aware – for safety reasons – that they are the same drug.

The type of formulation can make a difference for treatment, says the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB). The body represents manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines, says that this can be the case even if products contain the same active ingredient.

“Sometimes manufacturers make things that are long acting so that the medicine works over a longer period of time,” explains Neal Patel, a pharmacist from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. This could give someone hours of pain relief so that they can get some sleep. A quick-acting painkiller on the other hand, could be especially useful for people with migraines.

It’s also possible that one type of tablet might be better tasting or easier to swallow than another while still being the same drug.

But the power of the placebo effect is hugely significant. “It’s very powerful. If someone trusts something then it’s more likely to work for them,” says GP Sarah Jarvis. Some of her patients with chronic pain have refused prescriptions because they would rather buy their own brand of painkillers.

Ibuprofen was discovered in 1961. It has joined aspirin and paracetamol in the special trinity of medicines that people keep close at hand, even when they’re well.

 

 

Share of life in fit healthy lives are rising

The proportion of life spent in good fit, healthy lives are increasing in England, even as life expectancy continues to rise.

The proportion of life spent in good fit, healthy lives are increasing in England, even as life expectancy continues to rise.

The research compared two identical surveys, 20 years apart, that measured the health of people aged 65 or older in Cambridge, Newcastle and Nottingham.

The data, collected in 1991 and 2011, involved more than 15,000 responses.

Experts say the findings are encouraging, but warned they suggest health inequalities remain in the UK.

New health threats – such as obesity – may have an impact on wellbeing in the future, which needs investigating, say the researchers.

The work, part-funded by the Medical Research Council and published in The Lancet, looked at three measures of good health:

self-perceived health
time free from cognitive impairment (dementia)
life without disability

In 2011, men spent nearly four more years and women about three more years in “self-reported” good health compared with the respondents in the 1991 survey.

The chance of having dementia also appeared to be reduced in the 2011 group – men and women enjoyed about four more years free of any cognitive impairment compared with those surveyed in 1991.

Life without disability gains between 1991 and 2011 were smaller – 2.6 years for men and half a year for women, on average – and there was a mixed picture. While severe disability became less common between 1991 and 2011, milder disability increased.
Image copyright Thinkstock

The researchers say the milder disability figures might be explained by rising rates of obesity and arthritis.

But, overall, they say their findings are positive.

Lead researcher Prof Carol Jagger, from Newcastle University, said: “Brain health has improved over the 20-year period. We’re not entirely sure why.”

Although, as individuals, people may be living more years without cognitive impairment, Prof Jagger said, it was important to remember the number of cases of dementia in the UK was still rising because of an ageing population – there were more elderly people living in the country, meaning more “at risk”.

“Our findings have important implications for government, employees and individuals with respect to raising the state pension age and extending working life,” she said.

“It is also necessary for community care services and family carers who predominantly support those with mild to moderate disability to enable them to continue living independently.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Real improvements in older peoples’ health are a real cause for celebration and demonstrate the continuing importance of supporting people to age well, especially through the provision of good quality health and social care services.”

“However, we know that health inequalities are still deeply entrenched across the UK and with a growing older population, particularly of those aged over the age of 85, there is still much more work to do to help every older person have a healthier and happier later life.”

 

 

 

Man’s weight affects sperm cells

A man’s weight affects the information passed on through his sperm and could leave his children predisposed to obesity.

A man's weight affects the information passed on through his sperm and could leave his children predisposed to obesity.

 

The sperm cells of lean and obese men possess different epigenetic marks, maybe changing the behaviour of genes.

Dr Romain Barres, the author of the research, said: “When a woman is pregnant she should take care of herself. But if the implication of our study holds true, then recommendations should be directed towards men too.”

Part of the research – which was carried out by the University of Copenhagen and published in the journal Cell Metabolism – tested the sperm of six obese men who were undergoing weight-loss surgery.

It looked at the men’s sperm before treatment, a week after the surgery and then for a third time a year later.

Dr Barres said changes to the sperm were noticeable in the men a week after the surgery, and also one year on.

He said although the genetic make-up of the sperm cells was likely to remain the same, he noticed “epigenetic changes”, which could change the way a gene expresses itself in the body.

Dr Barres admits a definitive scientific conclusion for how these epigenetic changes affect the gene is not yet scientifically known.

However, the sperm cell changes he recorded are linked to the genes known for appetite control and brain development.

The five-year study also recorded similar sperm cell changes when it compared 13 lean men – who all had a BMI of below 30 – with 10 moderately obese men.

Dr Barres said his findings have also been corroborated on mice and rats.

He goes on to suggest that there are possible evolutionary reasons why information about a father’s weight would be valuable to offspring.

His theory is that during in times of abundance, it is an instinctive way to encourage children to eat more and grow bigger.

“It’s only recently that obesity is not an advantage,” he said. “Only decades ago, the ability to store energy was an advantage to resist infections and famines.”

Prof Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield, described the study as “interesting” and said it provided further evidence to support the theory that some characteristics can be passed by sperm, without altering the basic structure of the genetic code.

“Whilst the study examines a relative small number of individuals, the fact that such significant differences can be found in the epigenetic markers of lean and obese men is intriguing and in my opinion worthy of more detailed investigation,” he said.

“Until we know more, would-be parents should just aim to be as healthy as possible at the time of conception and not be drawn to faddy diets or other activities in order to try and influence the health of their children in ways we don’t properly understand.”