We need sunshine to be healthy

P1030120Lack of sunshine has been blamed for rickets and poor eye-sight.

Now it’s suggested that a lack of exposure to strong sunlight may be giving people multiple sclerosis (MS).

Suspicions were aroused when it was found that ethnic minority people form countries close to the equator had a far greater prevalence of the disease in London than in their own countries.

The chances of contracting MS vary greatly by ethnicity anyway. There are about 100,000 MS sufferers in the UK with white people most at risk while people from sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia suffer least.

Based on a study of health records of almost a million people in east London, the gap narrows significantly in populations living there. Asian and black people had several times the risk of those still living in their home countries.

They found that the prevalence of MS among white people was 180 per 100,000 and 74 and 29 for black and south Asian people respectively. It also affects twice as many women as men. The WHO records show a prevalence of only 0.3 per 100,000 in Africa and 2.8 in south Asia. Dramatically different figures.

So as well as having a genetic component there are probably also environmental and lifestyle factors coming into play.

Klaus Schmierer from Queen Mary University who carried out the research said that current figures for ethnic minorities were almost half those for people with white skin. “Within one generation of being here the likelihood of getting MS has multiplied. This strongly suggests an environmental (rather than genetic) factor

Some experts however wonder whether or not the gap is due to poorer diagnosis and/or recording of the disease in Africa and Asia. The MS Society welcomed the research but said it was too early to draw firm conclusions from it.

This is how we make progress though, through little steps.

British women die younger

doctor_shows_the_way_to_a_woman_1600_wht_8489compared to women in almost every other country in Western Europe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to introduce sugar taxes and raise the price of alcohol as it believes Europeans are the “world champions” of unhealthy living.

British women have the second lowest life expectancy of the 15 western EU countries. 

From the age of 30 to 74 British women have higher death rates than the european average. We have not reduced our alcohol consumption as much as other countries and 63% of UK adults are overweight compared to a european average of 57%.

A baby girl can expect to live to 82.7 in this country with only Denmark worse at 82.1. Spanish women have the longest life expectancy at 85.5 years. But overeating and drinking risk children living shorter lives than their parents.

“there are so many factors, lifestyle but also access to healthcare, early screening and detection of disease, prevention of disease” that could explain the gap said a WHO spokesperson.

Europe as a whole drinks and smokes more than any other part of the world and only America is fatter. (Although England is slightly better than its european neighbours in that regard)

And within England there are variations of up to seven years in women’s life expectancy. “Healthy behaviours, whatever your age, and effective care and support can help people have longer, healthier lives than ever before. There’s only so much medical technology can do“.

Tougher action is needed on the price of cigarettes, alcohol, and unhealthy foods but the government has so far rejected calls for this from health leaders.

Depressing News

Depression rates have tripled since the 1970s amongst people aged 30 according to an international study by Dresden University published in European Neuropsychopharmacology.

The researchers concluded that almost 40% of people suffer from a mental condition such as depression, addiction, or dementia and predict that mental illness will become; “Europe’s foremost healthcare challenge of the 21st century”.

And women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from depression (13.4% against 5.8% of 36-45 year olds). For women depression is concentrated in the reproductive years of 16 to 42.

Men are suffering more from depression too because of job insecurity and divorce and 14% of teenagers suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and social phobia.

Professor Witchen, who led the study, concedes that the public and other researchers might find it hard to accept such high rates but says it may be due to negative attitudes towards, and limited knowledge of, the range of mental disorders.

FYI India has the most depressed people in the world according to the WHO. Over a third of Indians suffer from Major Depressive Episodes. Generally people living in wealthier nations were less happy and more depressed than those in poorer ones.

The WHO says depression is the 4th leading cause of disability world-wide and predicts it will be the 2nd by 2020.

Originally posted on EI4U September 2011