Loneliness bad for your health

P1000496Loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease by a third and should be treated as seriously as smoking and obesity.

That’s according to researchers at the University of York. And the risk might be even higher if  loneliness leads to inactivity and a poor diet.

A million older people in Britain say they are chronically lonely. A figure that is expected to rise by 600,000 in the next twenty years.

Other studies have shown that lonely people are 50% more likely to die early, a similar risk to drinking and smoking.

Dr Victoria Valtorta, who led the research, said “What it doesn’t tell you is whether people are at greater risk of developing disease or if people who are ill are less likely to recover if they’re lonely”

She analysed 23 studies involving 180,000 people and concluded that lonely people were also more likely to get heart disease or have a stroke.

People with weaker social relationships had 29% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than the people with stronger social relationships…. similarly people who were socially isolated had a 32% greater risk of developing a stroke

Loneliness could cause disease through direct effects on the immune system or blood pressure, through the effects of depression, or because it makes people turn to cigarettes, alcohol and junk food.

Some doctors are experimenting with prescribing social clubs and gardening classes as part of a “social prescribing” approach but there is no evidence yet that these actually work.

The Campaign to End Loneliness said “Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It’s the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it”

I first posted on this 5 years ago as research was published about people dying of broken hearts. There is also evidence that it effects the health of  young people as well.

Get off your a**e to stay healthy!

Biz Psycho

man tied up 0004Public Health England has said office workers should spend 4 hours of their working day standing up to avoid serious health problems.

A report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said employers should encourage the workforce to break up their day by getting away from their desks with standing work or breaks for at least 2 hours a day.

They suggest that we should use more “standing” desks to move away from a sedentary life-style and move towards one where we spend half the working day on our feet.

Unlike purposeful exercises, standing is something that the vast majority of individuals can do without too much effort and it doesn’t detract from time at work“.

At present the researchers believe that office workers spend between 65% and 75% of their time in periods of prolonged sitting. In Scandinavia 90% of office workers have access to standing…

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Simple tests to predict your life expectancy

elderly_man_holding_a_custom_text_sign_12871With the government planning to tell future pensioners how long they are likely to live so they can better plan their finances this new research might be useful.

Research at University College London, and published in the BMJ, found that people in their early 50s who scored poorly on three simple tests of strength and co-ordination were nearly four times as likely to die in the next decade as those who did well.

The three tests were:

  • grip strength
  • chair rise speed
  • standing balance time

You can do two of these tests at home.

The chair rise test is: see how quickly you can get up and down from a chair 10 times. 16.5 seconds puts you in top fifth and 26.5 seconds in the bottom fifth.

The balance test is to see how long you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed. More than 10 seconds puts you in top fifth and less than 2 seconds in bottom fifth.

The research was carried out using a cohort of people born in 1946 who had had their health monitored all their lives. They were tested at age 53. In the following 13 years there were 177 deaths in the group (of around 2,800), half from cancer and a quarter to coronary heart disease (CHD).

Those who had performed poorly on the tests were more likely to have died regardless of other factors such as wealth or exercise.

The few who couldn’t do any of the tests were 12 times more likely to have died than all those who performed the tasks. Those in the bottom 20% of scores on these tests were almost 4 times more likely to have died than the others.

Fitness levels drop off from age 45 on average but there are wide variations. Separate research, also published in the BMJ, found that walking or taking similar light exercise for an hour a day could stave off the onset of osteoarthritis.

In the UK the NHS has been accused of ageism in its reluctance to offer surgery to older patients. Now scientists at Seoul University in South Korea have developed a test to predict whether or not a patient will survive an operation to stop doctors using age alone to decide whether they can cope with treatment.

They found that patients with a high frailty score were more likely to die within a year of having an operation.

They assessed patients over 65 on their ability to walk, dress, wash and carry out other tasks as well as their performance on memory tests, their nutrition and the number of drugs they were taking. In the following year 9% of these patients died, 10% experienced complications, and 9% had to go into a nursing home. These were all patients who had scored highest on the frailty assessment.

The researchers found that post-operative one-year all-cause mortality rate, length of hospital stay, and discharge to a nursing facility, could all be predicted from their assessments.

Finally back to the grip test referred to above. Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems in Austria have found that the strength of a handshake is a good way to assess how fast people are ageing. Using grip strength as a marker of biological age people who did poorly at school age about 4 years faster than those who did well.

Reviewing 5o studies on grip strength they found that weakness in the hands is linked to high levels of disease and early death.

If you’re younger and relying on the body mass index (BMI) remember it’s no longer considered reliable.

Men – you can’t afford to skip breakfast!

hungry_man_pc_1600_wht_1282Men who skip breakfasts are at greater risk of heart attacks.

A study of 27,000 males aged between 45  and 82 over a 16-year period from 1992 found that those who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of a heart attack or death from coronary heart disease (CHD) than those who ate breakfast, after taking into account other factors such as weight, exercise, work stress and diet.

The study, by nutrition scientists at Harvard School of Public Health, found that skipping breakfast can lead to one or more risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes – which in turn may lead to a heart attack.

Not everyone agreed as some men who skipped breakfasts were also more likely to smoke, be employed full-time, be unmarried, less physically active and heavier drinkers of alcohol. Many of these factors are also indicators of poor health outcomes. And skipping breakfast leaves the body in a “fasting” state which temporarily raises blood pressure, and levels of insulin and cholesterol.

cardiogram_heart_working_500_wht_5747During the study almost 1,600 men had first-time cardiac events

The study appeared in The American Heart Association journal Circulation.

The British Heart Foundation recommends having breakfast to avoid the need to snack on biscuits mid-morning (although recent research suggests the opposite – se below).

They recommend whole-grain toast, or cereals like porridge with low fat milk although not everyone would agree with that as the current thinking is that full fat milk and butter isn’t necessarily bad for you.

Additives are often put in low fat products to make them taste OK. Personally I can’t see the attraction of skimmed milk – it looks like chalky water and has no taste.

And the latest research on breakfast suggests that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. You might want to rethink that King of meals tag.

Fish oils (again) & other stuff that keeps you healthy

healthy_food_1600_wht_5282OK this is not a long piece on the range of food that is good for you (but you’re welcome to add your penn’orth via comments)

First the fish oils ie Omega-3 acids, debate. Not long ago scientists said that it wasn’t as good for you as we had been led to believe even though there had been evidence that it helped kids at school.

Now a report in the Times newspaper says scientists are saying that eating oily fish – which contain omega-3 acids – such as herring, mackerel, or salmon, can add a least two years to your life.

The study followed 2,700 Americans of retirement age for 16 years and found that those with higher levels of fatty acids in their blood lived longer. Having adequate levels of omega-3 in your blood is good for your cardio-vascular health according to Dr Dariush Mozaffarian commenting on the research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

There are three omega-3 acids (the clue is in the name I think): Docosahexaenoic acid was linked to a 40% reduction in death from CHD; docosapentaenoic acid was linked to a lower risk of death from stroke; eicosapentaenoic acid was linked to a lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks. Together they were associated with cutting the risk of an early death by 27%

Secondly bananas. A report on bmj.com on research on 128,000 people said “High quality evidence shows that increased potassium intake reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension and has no adverse effect on …..or renal function in adults”.

Potassium is found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, milk, fish, bed chicken, turkey among other foods. Ensuring that you eat enough potassium in your diet eg from bananas, and cutting down on salt intake will reduce your chance of having a stroke by almost a quarter.

The DoH advises against older people taking potassium supplements unless advised by their GP as your kidneys become less able to remove it from your blood as you get older. But for most people there is a benefit.

Another study showed that modest reductions of salt over a few weeks can significantly reduce your blood pressure and therefor reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes.heart_beat_cardiogram_1600_wht_5646

Thirdly exercise. According to US scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, an hour’s brisk walk can do you as much good as 30 minutes of jogging as long as you get warm and raise your pulse rate. The study looked at over 30,000 runners and 15,000 walkers.

They found that running a kilometre reduces the risk of high blood pressure  and high cholesterol levels by 4.3% and heart disease by 4.5% but was 7% and 9.3% for walkers. The risk of diabetes was reduced by 12% for both runners and walkers. The report is in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

The choice therefore is to run for shorter periods or walk briskly for twice as long to expend the same energy. Some people don’t like running because they think it will damage their joints but recent evidence says there is no clear link and that exercise is good for joints and may ward off arthritis.

The British Heart Foundation’s view is that moderate-intense aerobic activity helps you reduce weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure as well as improving your mental health.

Official guidelines in the UK are to do 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week or 1.25 hours of vigorous exercise – either of which can be taken in 10-minute bursts. Basically any kind of physical exercise is good for you, even golf!

Some bad news from Japan however: bald men are more at risk of heart disease than those with a full head, or even receding, hair. Maybe it’s the testosterone?

Pour a little sugar on it baby

BookWith apologies to the Archies sugar is bad for you!

Last month the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks as part of  a plan to combat obesity. Similar calls have been made by the charity Sustain who want 20p duty on a litre of sugary drinks.

This has already happened in Finland and France and New York State was about to ban supersize fizzy drinks before the Supreme Court got involved.

Why fizzy drinks and not cakes or biscuits? Well they have other things in them and might even contain protein and nutrients. With fizzy drinks it’s easy to consume calories with a can of Coke containing 10 teaspoons of sugar. Try putting that in your coffee!

The scary thing is that fruit juices, which you might consider a healthy alternative, also contain a lot of sugar. Smoothies (not so Innocent anyway as they are owned by Coca Cola now) and smooth squeezed orange juice have as much sugar as Coca Cola.

Dr Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist from the University of California and the author of “Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar”. He wants to take the drinks manufacturers to court in the same way that tobacco firms were sued.

He pins the blame on fructose, a molecule that makes everything sweet whether white or brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Fructose isn’t the cause of obesity but the main cause of metabolic syndrome – the diseases associated with obesity like diabetes, high blood pressure, and CHD.

The worrying thing is that  although 20% of obese people don’t get these diseases, 40% of normal weight people have the same diseases as if they were obese. And it’s because fructose is in everything and is a hypertoxin like alcohol. Our consumption of it has increased sixfold in the last century and doubled in the last 30 years. (See post on Alzheimer’s disease & diabetes)

Dr Lustig says (and I have to trust him on this, I’m a scientist but not a nutrition expert) that if you eat 120 calories of glucose, such as 2 slices of white bread, 80% of it is used by all the organs in the body and only 20% goes straight to the liver to be stored. Whereas if you consume 120 calories of fructose, say in a glass of orange juice, it all goes to the liver as nowhere else in the body can metabolise fructose.

There it causes liver fat, high blood pressure and high insulin levels amongst other things. It also makes you ant to drink more and be less active.

He says children should just drink water or milk. No fizzy drinks or juice. Plain fruit is OK as it comes with fibre (except grapes – which he calls little bags of sugar). The fibre forms a barrier to the intestine and slows down absorption to the liver or helps it go straight through the intestine.

Juicing removes the fibre and making smoothies means it has no fibre latticework and so goes straight to the liver. And we though we were being healthy!

And as my good friends at Quality for Life Fitness pointed out when I tweeted about this earlier, not all fruits are equal with berries being healthier for you, and there are additives in juice.

Fizzy drinks also contain additives like caffeine and sodium hidden by the sugary taste.These make you urinate a lot and want more (just like the  early symptoms of diabetes). What makes them worse than fruit juice is that people tend to drink larger volumes of fizzy sodas (hence Mayor Bloomberg’s attempted ban of drinks larger than 16 oz in NYC).

The case for a sugary drinks tax is strong. Not only would it raise £1 billion a year but it would deter and educate people. The government has backed down on alcohol tax however so don’t hold your breath on this proposal.

Apart from dropping the sodas and fruit juices Lustig recommends more exercise and more fibre in your diet. You can also cut sugar by at least a third from baking recipes (I’ve already decided cupcakes are too sweet for my taste).

Primary Source: “The Fructose timebomb: it’s drinks that are making our children fat” in The Times2 March 13 2013

See also:

“How we became addicted to sugar”

“Sugar warning for “healthy” soft drinks”

“Sugary drinks linked to high blood pressure”

“Gout surge blamed on sweet drinks”

Owner of a Lonely Heart

P1000773 - Version 3Loneliness increases the risk of death in elderly people by 10%.

Lonely people adopt a sedentary lifestyle, exercise less and drink more all of which leads to a higher incidence of heart disease and blood clots.

People who live alone also suffer more from debilitating diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and glaucoma.

Statistics show that 51% of people who live alone suffer from arthritis and rheumatism compared with 38% of people who live with others.

The Times is backing a charity campaign to support the WRVS which works to help isolated elderly people.And now the government has said it will measure and track loneliness so that local authorities can target services better.

The first study into this topic was carried out only 6 years ago by the University of California and found that lonely people had almost twice the risk of  death than others. Cambridge University found that people living alone were more than twice as likely to have falls.

Jeremy Hunt the Health Secretary said; “the mark of a civilised society is how well we care for older people and loneliness can have a major impact on a person’s health and happiness”.

Previous research has focused mainly on the impact on mental health of living alone including “death by heartbreak

Fish Oils not quite as beneficial as we thought

There we were thinking that of all the supplements omega 3 oil was the one with proven benefits. Sadly not so.

A large scale study of 70,000 people, carried out at the University Hospital of Ionnia in Greece and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that it doesn’t prevent heart attacks, strokes or deaths from heart disease

Another study of 20,000 people in South Korea came to the same conclusions as did a study of almost 5,000 men with heart disease reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the last study half the men were given omega 3 supplements but the number of heart attacks for that group was no different from those who didn’t receive the fish oil.

Omega 3 oil is needed for many bodily functions and comes entirely from our diet. It is found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines.

The British Heart Foundation still stands by its advice to take 400mg a day and the NHS advice is to take supplements after a heart attack if the diet doesn’t supply it (a typical serving of salmon contains 3,000mg).

And the European Food Standards Agency, which is evaluating and clamping down on supplements, still allows “general health claims” that omega 3 oil helps maintain normal vision and heart and brain functions as well as normal growth and development of children.

There is also some evidence that omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties that might help arthritis sufferers (some sufferers claim it is more effective than paracetamol in reducing pain) as well as studies that show it has anti-ageing properties – not so much a wrinkle remover but it works at the cellular level reducing biological ageing.

Some people claim it boosts their energy, reduces depression, and improves concentration – one reason experiments have been carried out in schools to help combat disruptive behaviours. Research in Australia showed that it also helped improve spelling, particularly among boys.

For post-war baby boomers there was free orange juice and the dreaded cod liver oil which had been introduced during the war to compensate for restricted diets due to wartime food shortages. The NHS stopped supplying it in 1975 although mothers on benefits can still get vitamin drops free if they ask.

For the 20% of the population who take fish oil daily we have to buy it and it’s a big part of the £400 million a year supplements market.

So disappointing news if you are taking them as a preventative against strokes and heart diseases but the evidence is they do no harm and probably help you maintain a healthy body. I’ll still be taking them.

Prime source: Sunday Times Focus 7 October 2012

Put the kettle on

Making a cup of tea is the British response to any stressful situation. And it may have a strong basis in science.

Several years ago researchers at University College London found that drinking tea actually made you less stressed.

The tea lowered cortisol levels. This is the hormone released when we’re stressed and which increases our blood pressure and pulse rate. Tea contains a supernutrient called theanine, which blocks the effect of nerve transmitters leading to raised stress levels, along with other bioactive compounds including one with a mild sedative effect.

So if you want to lower your stress levels drink 4 cups of tea a day.

Other research suggest that drinking 3 cups a day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease because of the anti-oxidants it contains. These flavinoids, also exist in onions and apples but tea provides 80% of our daily intake.

Flavinoids help to reduce blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessel walls and also make it more difficult for cholesterol to attach and form the plaques that block blood flow and can break off to find their way to the brain to cause strokes. Flavinoids also reduce bad LDL cholesterol by over 10%.

Research in 2010 on almost 5,000 over-65 year olds showed that tea drinkers showed less cognitive decline over a fourteen year period and there is research that shows the positive effects of tea drinking in preventing diabetes by interfering with blood glucose activity.

Now scientists at the University of Western Australia and Unilever have discovered that drinking three cups of black tea a day lowers your blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic). However they don’t know the effect of drinking tea with milk which is strange seeing that most Brits have milk in their tea and probably influenced Australian tea-drinking traditions).


How popular is tea as a drink? Second only water across the world (so coffee still has some catching up to do)

Does tea dehyrdrate you? Research on high altitude climbers showed that tea is not a diuretic and it doesn’t dehydrate you

Is there no caffeine in tea? Tea has about half the caffeine found in coffeee but the more stewed it gets the higher the level.

But isn’t caffeine bad for you? 40-60gm of caffeine helps you to concentrate and combat fatigue so no need to stop drinking coffee.

Is green tea better for you than black tea? Green tea is prepared differently from black tea but from the same plants. Green tea has more catechins (flavonoids) which have antioxidant, antibacterial, and immune system regulating effects. Some experts suggest drinking green tea can raise your metabolism and help you burn more calories.

What about white tea?  Green tea is made from mature fresh tips whereas white tea is made from buds and young leaves. It has a higher level of catechins and a greater antibacterial effect than green tea.

SourcesThe Times 21/11/2006 and Wikipedia

The UCL research was published in Psychopharmacology and described experiments where 75 healthy non-smoking men were allowed their usual tea, coffee and caffeinated drinks for 4 weeks before the experiments. They were then subjected to a series of stressful tests including being accused of shoplifting and threatened with job loss.

Half the group were then asked to drink 4 cups a day of a tea coloured fruit drink which contained all the active constituents of a cup of black tea. The other 38 drank a tea-coloured placebo. After 6 weeks of this the stress tests were repeated. The cortisol levels of those participants drinking the fruit drinks fell more quickly and they reported feeling less stressed than the placebo drinking participants.

The research on the effects on CHD was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The Australian study comprised 95 people aged between 35 and 75 who drank either 3 cups of black tea or a placebo with the same flavour and caffeine content. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in January 2012