Thursday, 30 October 2008

"Sense of Fullness" drugs are no quick fix for obesity

reposted from:

  • 29 October 2008
  • From New Scientist Print Edition.

AS THE defining epidemic of a modern age notable for overconsumption and excess, obesity is hard to beat. The increased availability of high-fat, high-sugar foods, along with more sedentary lifestyles, has helped push the number of obese people worldwide to beyond 400 million, and the number of overweight to more than 1.6 billion. By 2015, those figures are likely to grow to 700 million and 2.3 billion respectively, according to the World Health Organization. Given the health implications - increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers - anything that helps people avoid piling on the pounds must be a good thing, right?

Those who agree will no doubt welcome the growing success of researchers striving to develop "diet pills" that provide a technical fix for those incapable of losing weight any other way.

Last week a study published in The Lancet showed that tesofensine, which works by inducing a sense of fullness, is twice as effective as any other drug at enabling patients to lose weight
(see "Whirlwind week for dieters").

There's no question that advances such as this are good news for those with a strong genetic predisposition to obesity. But for the rest of us it is dangerous to see treatment as a more effective solution than prevention.
There are several reasons for this. For a start, the traditional ways of maintaining a safe weight, such as limiting what you eat, increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and taking more exercise, are beneficial for our health in many ways.

Second, overindulgence in fatty foods has implications for the entire planet. Consider the deleterious environmental effects of the rising demand for meat. As demonstrated in our special issue on economic growth (18 October, p 40), technological fixes will not compensate for excessive consumption.

Third, interfering with the brain circuits that control the desire for food can have an impact on other aspects of a person's personality and their mental and physical health.

We need two approaches: more research into the genetics of obesity to understand why some people are more susceptible, and greater efforts to help people avoid eating their way to an early death.
Cynics will say we've tried education and it hasn't worked. That is defeatist: getting people to change their behaviour takes time and effort, held back as we are by our biological tendency to eat more than we need, and by the food industry's ruthless opportunism in exploiting that.

Drugs will be the saving of a few - as a last resort. But the global obesity problem is one of lifestyle, and the solution must be too.

From issue 2680 of New Scientist magazine, 29 October 2008, page 5

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Welcome to CaniX UK the home of CaniCross — where your dog takes you for a run! 5km / 21km runs with your dog throughout the UK.

Great idea! I do a run once or twice a week with Jazzie already!

For Age 50 races are: VM+ / VF+ / XM / XF / H

1st M Napier 20:11.32 66
2nd J Urwin 20:26.34 57
3rd I Licietis 21:21.67 49
4th C Holt 23:42.37 42
5th P Howard 24:09.20 36
6th D Hydon RET
1st C Aleknavicius 26:18.14 66
2nd G Smith 27:20.73 57
3rd D Newton 29:44.69 49
4th V Turner 31:14.65 42
5th T Thomas 32:12.40 36
6th J Parker 35:30.55 31
7th D Mann 35:53.14 27

5km = 3.1 miles
@ 20 mins (9.3 mph)
@ 35 mins (5.3 mph)

Ringwood - Moores valley run - 6 miles

70 min run, 5.1 mph.

Monday, 27 October 2008

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is found in the blood. It is mainly made in the body. Cholesterol plays an essential role in how every cell in the body works. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart problems.

LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is carried around the body by proteins. These combinations of cholesterol and proteins are called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins (classified by density):
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the harmful type of cholesterol.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is a protective type of cholesterol.
LDL carry cholesterol from the liver to cells of the body (ref) 1.019-1.063 g/ml
HDL collects cholesterol from the body's tissues, and brings it back to the liver. (ref) >1.063 g/ml HDL removes cholesterol from atheroma within arteries and transport it back to the liver for excretion or re-utilization—which is the main reason why HDL-bound cholesterol is sometimes called "good cholesterol", or HDL-C. (wiki)

Density (g/mL) Class Diameter (nm) % protein % cholesterol % phospholipid % triacylglycerol
>1.063 HDL 5-15 33 30 29 8
1.019-1.063 LDL 18-28 25 50 21 4

Lipoproteins in the blood, an aqueous medium, carry fats around the body. The protein particles have
hydrophilic groups aimed outward so as to attract water molecules; this makes them soluble in the salt water based blood pool. Triglyceride-fats and cholesterol are carried internally, shielded from the water by the protein particle.

HDL are the smallest of the
lipoprotein particles. They are the densest because they contain the highest proportion of protein. (wiki)

The American Heart Association, NIH and NCEP provides a set of guidelines for male fasting HDL levels and risk for heart disease. (wiki)

Level mg/dL Level mmol/L Interpretation
<40 <1.03 Low HDL cholesterol, heightened risk for heart disease, <50>
40–59 1.03–1.52 Medium HDL level
>60 >1.55 High HDL level, optimal condition considered protective against heart disease

Guidelines for fasting LDL-Cholesterol levels, estimated or measured, and risk for heart disease. As of 2003, these guidelines were:

Level mg/dL Level mmol/L Interpretation
<100 <2.6 Optimal LDL cholesterol, corresponding to reduced, but not zero, risk for heart disease
100 to 129 2.6 to 3.3 Near optimal LDL level
130 to 159 3.3 to 4.1 Borderline high LDL level
160 to 189 4.1 to 4.9 High LDL level
>190 >4.9 Very high LDL level, corresponding to highest increased risk of heart disease
source: wiki.

Having too much harmful cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of getting cardiovascular disease. The risk is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol.


Triglycerides are another type of fatty substance in the blood. They are found in foods such as dairy products, meat and cooking oils. They can also be produced in the body, either by the body’s fat stores or in the liver. People who are very overweight, eat a lot of fatty and sugary foods, or drink too much alcohol are more likely to have a high triglyceride level.
People with high triglyceride levels have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people with lower levels.

What causes high cholesterol?

One of the causes of high blood cholesterol levels amount people in the UK is eating too much saturated fat. The cholesterol which is found in some foods such as eggs, liver, kidneys and some types of seafood eg. prawns, does not usually make a great contribution to the level of cholesterol in your blood. It is much more important that you eat foods that are low in saturated fat.
However, some people have high blood cholesterol even though they eat a healthy diet. For example, they may have inherited a condition called familial hyperlipidaemia (FH). For more information on FH, please download our booklet Reducing your blood cholesterol (see below under further information).

How can I reduce my cholesterol levels?

To help reduce your cholesterol level, you need to cut down on saturated fats and trans fats and replace them with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. You should also reduce the total amount of fat you eat.
Eat oily fish regularly. Oily fish provides the richest source of a particular type of polyunsaturated fat known as omega-3 fats which can help to lower blood triglyceride levels and also helps prevent the blood from clotting, and help to regulate the heart rhythm.
Eat a high-fibre diet. Foods that are high in 'soluble fibre' such as porridge, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and vegetables, can help lower cholesterol. Please see our fact sheet Fibre in our Any Questions/FAQ section.
Doing regular physical activity can help increase your HDL cholesterol (the 'protective' type of cholesterol).

Will eating sterol-enriched foods help reduce my cholesterol level?

There is evidence to show that substances called ‘plant sterols’ and ‘stanols’ may help reduce cholesterol levels. They are added to certain foods including margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and yoghurts. For more information please see our fact sheet Plant sterols and stanols in our Any Questions/FAQ section.

Eating a western diet adds 30% to your risk of heart attack

Blood pressure news

Eating a western diet adds 30% to your risk of heart attack

Eating a healthy blood pressure diet could cut your risk of heart attacks by 30%, research of worldwide eating habits has shown.

Simply by swapping fried and salty foods for healthier alternatives that contain plenty of fruit and vegetables, you can reduce your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of a heart attack by more than one third.
(More on eating a healthy blood pressure pressure diet.)

The researchers looked at the diets of more than 16,000 people in 52 countries. They found that a typical "Western" diet that is high in salt, fat and meat produced far higher levels of heart attacks than diets that contained more fruit and vegetables and avoided frying.

Eat slowly for healthy weight loss

Blood pressure news

Eat slowly for healthy weight loss

Eating quickly raises the risk of being overweight by 84% for men and more than 50% for women, Japanese research has found. The results of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that eating more slowly may help with natural, healthy weight loss.

Scientists studied the eating habits of 3,000 Japanese men and women and assessed their weight. They found that eating quickly significantly raised the risk of being overweight, as did eating until one felt full. And, if a person both ate quickly and continued to eat until they felt full, they were at a even higher risk of being overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and with it, the risk of future strokes or heart attacks. The reason why excess weight causes high blood pressure is that it makes the heart push harder (it has push the blood further round a greater mass of tissue) and increases the pressure.

Many of us will have been told to chew our food slowly when we were children to avoid stomach troubles, but it appears that this is also the perfect advice for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.

There are many theories as to why eating slowly and stopping eating before feeling full may help to avoid becoming overweight. One of them is that the body's natural signalling system to let us know that we've had enough works quite slowly. It is thought that the food we eat makes our stomach wall expand and this sends signals to the brain. But if we eat quickly, the stomach expands faster than the system can keep up with and we don't get the message that we've eaten enough until long after we've eaten too much.

Eating slowly means that we receive the message to stop eating at the same time as we have had too much, helping us to stay at (or go down to) a healthy weight.

Yet being a healthy weight is good our bodies, our minds and our blood pressures. Being the right weight:

  • reduces the risk of developing heart disease and stroke
  • reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • lowers blood pressure
  • reduces back and joint pain and increasing mobility
  • reduces breathlessness and sleep/snoring problems
  • increases your self esteem and control over eating
  • gives you more energy.

But eating more slowly and following a healthy diet plan, you can start to reap the benefits:


Maruyama K, Sato S, Ohira T et al. The joint impact on being overweight of self reported behaviours of eating quickly and eating until full : cross sectional survey. BMJ 2008;337:a2002.

Topics: Research, Lifestyle

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Runners burn more calories – even at rest

  • 26 October 2008
  • news service

THE benefits of exercise don't stop when the running shoes come off. A new peek inside the muscles of resting athletes shows that they burn fuel even when their bodies don't need the energy.

Endurance sports such as long-distance running are known to increase the number of mitochondria, the tiny engines inside cells that convert sugars and fats into ATP molecules, the cell's energy carriers. This boosts the capacity of muscles to consume oxygen and work at higher power during exercise.

Now Douglas Befroy and his colleagues at Yale University say that the

mitochondria in the muscles of men who run at least 4 hours a week consume 54 per cent more fuel at rest than those of men who don't run
(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0808889105). Yet the amount of ATP produced by the two sets of men was the same, indicating that when at rest the extra fuel was being "wasted", and turned into heat.

Because mitochondrial fuel-burning helps to clear out the cellular fats thought to contribute to insulin resistance, this finding suggests a way that training can help to protect against type 2 diabetes even when exercise is over.

From issue 2679 of New Scientist magazine, 26 October 2008, page 15

Physics Diet v Hacker's Diet graphs

Friday, 24 October 2008

Avoiding cancer: Top tips from the experts

World class advice on how to sidestep cancer

Cancer special: Expert tips

  • 22 October 2008
  • From New Scientist Print Edition.
Drink green tea

"Breast cancer is the top cancer among women in Singapore. I try to reduce my risk by drinking more green tea and eating more soy-based products. I also steam my tofu with fish since omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce breast-cancer risk. Finally, I try to catch up on sleep because this may reduce my chance of breast cancer too, if our recent findings are true"

Woon-Puay Koh, cancer epidemiologist, National University of Singapore

Take aspirin

"I take a baby aspirin each morning. I eat a largely vegetarian diet, and I am a fanatic, but not totally successful, in trying to keep my weight down. They say that obesity is the second most important risk factor for cancer deaths after tobacco use. I feel increasingly, in the words of the old hippies, that we are what we eat. It's still a throw of the dice, but at least we can tilt the playing field in our favour"

Robert Weinberg, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, discoverer of the first oncogene

Get screened

"I take low-dose aspirin - it does reduce your risk of colon cancer by about 40 or 50 per cent.
I also abide by all of the screening tests. Unfortunately, a lot of the population can't afford that kind of intervention, so we've got to figure out ways to make some of these tests less costly"

Ray DuBois, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas, and president of the American Association for Cancer Research

Eat your greens

"I grew up in Nigeria and that upbringing instilled behaviours that still make good healthy sense. We ate lots of fruits and vegetables and not much red meat. We got exercise, not always by choice. I now have modern conveniences but I still exercise, by choice. And despite my African heritage, I still try to reduce sun exposure"

Funmi Olopade, director of the University of Chicago's Cancer Risk Clinic

Keep your weight down

"I have never smoked, I'm not overweight, I avoid getting sunburnt and I don't drink much alcohol. I also cycle or walk most days. I have been a vegan for over 30 years because I don't like slaughterhouses. But whether this has any effect on cancer risk remains to be seen"

Tim Key of Cancer Research UK's Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford

Eat a balanced diet

"There are many nutrients that are thought to be potentially protective for cancer, including vitamin D, selenium, carotenoids, other antioxidants, and specific fatty acids. However, I don't take any dietary supplements because I do not think there is strong evidence that supplements have benefits for cancer beyond the nutrients that would be in a varied and balanced diet"

Kay-Tee Khaw, clinical gerontologist, University of Cambridge

Choose your parents carefully

"I don't smoke, and that's the very best thing anyone can do to avoid cancer. I'm a pale-skinned Scotsman, so I avoid the sun where possible and wear sunblock to avoid melanoma. Another tip would be to choose your parents carefully, to check for inheritable cancers, but that's a bit tricky"

Iain McNeish, medical oncologist, Barts and the London School of Medicine

Think positive

"My advice? Well, don't smoke, eat good green stuff, make very good friends with doctors so that they can snip off the odd mole and do the odd colonoscopy. Also, climb mountains and be very happy and positive the whole time"

David Lane, University of Dundee, UK, who showed that defects in the p53 gene cause a range of cancers

Read more in Cancer special: Old killer, new hope

From issue 2679 of New Scientist magazine, 22 October 2008, page 37

How to live to 100... and enjoy it

  • New Scientist 03 June 2006
Perhaps you think you stand no chance of clocking up a century. You know that longevity depends in large part on having the right genes, and one glance at the family tree may reveal that yours just won't pass muster. If so, think on this: centenarians are the fastest-growing demographic group across much of the developed world. Assuming there hasn't been a miraculous Methuselah mutation in the human genome in the past hundred-odd years, we can draw only one conclusion: the way we live is stretching our lifespans. So, what are the secrets of a long and happy life? New Scientist plunders the emerging science of longevity to find out how you can maximise your tally at the final checkout, without compromising any urges you might have to dance in the aisles on the way there.
1 Go for the burn
How's this for an elixir of youth: an X-ray, a mild case of sunburn, a couple of beers and a sauna. If you think all that would leave you feeling anything but youthful, think again. Many researchers believe that small doses of "stressors" such as poisons, radiation and heat can actually be good for you - so good that they can even reverse the ageing process. This counter-intuitive effect, called "hormesis", was once considered flaky, but in recent years it has been shown to extend longevity in yeast, fruit flies, protozoans, worms and rodents. If the findings extend to people, it could stretch the average healthy human lifespan to 90, says biologist Joan Smith-Sonneborn of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
How so? Stressors seem to kick-start natural repair mechanisms, including heat-shock proteins and DNA-repair enzymes, to fix the damage they have caused. If this damage is not too severe, the repair systems may overcompensate, building up enough oomph to repair unrelated damage as well. And if you accept the idea that damage equals ageing, this is nothing less than rejuvenation.
There is already some indirect evidence that hormesis has positive effects on human longevity. Between 1980 and 1988, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, tracked 28,000 nuclear shipyard workers to study the effects of low doses of radiation. To their surprise, they found that the mortality rate of these workers was 24 per cent lower than in a control group of 32,500 shipyard workers of similar ages who were not exposed to radiation.
An earlier study by legendary epidemiologist Richard Doll found similar low death rates among radiologists, compared with other doctors. Perhaps most strikingly, Barbara Gilchrest of Boston University has shown that feeding fragments of DNA to elderly human cells grown in culture, which mimics the effect of DNA damage, restores their DNA repair capabilities to levels usually seen only in youthful cells.
You may not even have to expose yourself to poisonous chemicals or radiation to see the benefits of hormesis. An increasing number of gerontologists think caloric restriction - the near-starvation diet that is the only reliable way so far of increasing lifespan in animals - works because it is a low-level stressor. Better yet, some compounds with supposed anti-ageing properties, notably vitamin E and melatonin, seem to act hormetically in protozoans: increasing longevity when taken in small amounts but not large ones.
The big unanswered question is at what dose does an otherwise harmful agent become beneficial. Clearly, too much radiation or poison are bad for you. However, there may be a safe way to trick your body's repair mechanisms into overdrive. Smith-Sonneborn and others suspect that the life-extending effects of exercise are also down to hormesis. She proudly practises what she preaches with an exercise regime that she says stresses her body to just the right level to get the optimum response. "I'm 70 and I have the bone density of a 35-year-old," she says.
Graham Lawton
2 Don't be a loner
Being sociable looks like one of the best ways to add years to your life. Relationships with family, friends, neighbours, even pets, will all do the trick, but the biggest longevity boost seems to come from marriage or an equivalent significant-other relationship. The effect was first noted in 1858 by William Farr, the British founding father of demography, when he penned (with quill) that widows and widowers were at a much higher risk of dying than their married peers. Large statistical studies carried out since then suggest that
marriage could add as much as seven years to a man's life and two years to a woman's.
The effect holds for all causes of death, whether through illness, accident or self-harm.
Even if the odds are stacked against you, marriage can more than compensate. Linda Waite of the University of Chicago has found that a married older man with heart disease can expect to live nearly four years longer than an unmarried man with a healthy heart. Likewise, a married man who smokes more than a pack a day is likely to live as long as a divorced man who does not smoke. There is a flip side, however, as partners are more likely to become ill or die in the couple of years following their spouse's death or hospitalisation, and caring for a spouse with dementia can leave you with some of the same severe cognitive problems, largely because of disturbed sleep patterns. Even so, the odds favour marriage. What's more, in a 30-year study of more than 10,000 people, Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School describes how all kinds of social networks have similar effects.
"I hope this marriage will last"
104-year-old Wook Kundro, who has just got hitched for the 21st time, to a man of 33
So how does it work? The effects are complex, affected by socio-economic factors, health-service provision, information distribution, emotional support and other more physiological mechanisms. For example, social contact can boost development of the brain and immune system, leading to more robust health and less chance of depression later in life. People in supportive relationships may handle stress better. Then there are the psychological benefits of a supportive, kindly partner. Elderly people who hear loving positive words are more sprightly in step and less likely to request a "do not resuscitate" instruction when admitted to hospital than those who hear negative comments.
A life partner, children and good friends are all recommended if you aim to live to 100. The ultimate social network is still being mapped out, but as Christakis says: "people are interconnected so their health is interconnected".
Helen Phillips
3 Consider relocation
The world is dotted with longevity hotspots where the number of centenarians exceeds 10 in 100,000. But why? Perhaps the locals are genetically primed for longevity. It could be something in the water.
Or it may simply be that these are statistical flukes
- places were oldies outnumber youngsters, so increasing the proportion likely to pass the 100 mark. Whatever the reason, the very existence of hotspots raises the question of what sort of environment is most conducive to a long life.
While small doses of radiation and toxins can be beneficial, a neighbourhood humming with either is an obvious no-no. There are also some more subtle environmental influences you should avoid if you want to live long and prosper. A recent study of elderly residents from a poor area of St Louis, Missouri, found that factors such as low air quality and dirty streets tripled the likelihood of their suffering from disabilities in later life. Likewise, a survey by Scottish newspaper The Scotsman in January found that people living in the poorest suburbs of Glasgow had a life expectancy of just 54 - three decades shorter than people in wealthier areas.
Still, teasing out the various factors at play here is tricky to say the least, and there are wildly differing views about whether it is our physical environment or our genetic make-up that contributes most to longevity. S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois in Chicago is among those who put the emphasis on genes, but even this camp accepts that environment can affect the potential lifespan we are born with. We eat the wrong foods, drink, smoke, expose ourselves to the sun, Olshansky says. "All of that shortens our lifespan."
Tom Perls, who heads the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, represents the other end of the spectrum. He believes that while longevity may seem to run in families, environment accounts for up to 70 per cent of this effect. "Just because it's familial doesn't mean it's all down to genes," he says, because family members often share many environmental factors. He points to a group of Seventh Day Adventists in California whose lifespan averages 88, a decade more than the US average. They are genetically quite diverse, but share a lifestyle that includes vegetarianism, no smoking, no drinking, and with strong emphasis on family and religion, all of which can contribute to longevity.
There is general agreement, however, that your physical location is less important than the personal environment you create through your behaviour. You could up sticks and move to the Japanese island of Okinawa, the world's number one longevity hotspot, but a better bet might be to live life the Okinawa way. "We boil it all down to four factors: diet, exercise, psycho-spiritual and social," says Bradley Willcox, a researcher with the Okinawa Centenarian Study.
Caroline Williams
4 Make a virtue out of a vice
One of the most informative studies of healthy ageing to date has been conducted at the convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minnesota. The nuns there, around 1 in 10 of whom have reached their hundredth birthday, teach us that a healthy old age is often a virtuous one - which means no drinking or smoking, eating healthily and in moderation, and living quietly, harmoniously and spiritually. But clean living is not to everyone's taste. Besides, what is the point of living to 100 if you can't enjoy a few wicked indulgences? Assuming you will have some vices, the trick is to choose them wisely.
The idea that one glass of wine a day is actually good for you is now ingrained in the popular consciousness.
Some say that wine is what underlies the "French paradox", the unexpectedly low rate of heart disease in the Mediterranean population. Wine does contain fruit antioxidants, but many of these chemicals are also found in the raw fruit. Beer too has its health lobby. The research literature is rather at a loss to explain these effects, or even to agree that they exist. While the issue is still in doubt, however, is it worth the risk of not drinking?
Another vice that you probably shouldn't fight too hard is sleep. If you love your duvet, sleep easier knowing the findings of Till Roenneberg of the University of Munich in Germany. He showed that unless you can reset your body clock with lots of bright light and good discipline, fighting your natural lark or owl tendencies can be bad for your health.
Then there's chocolate. It contains compounds called flavonoids that have been found to lower blood pressure and possibly even reduce your risk of suffering a stroke. The latest research suggests they do this by enhancing the body's production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, relaxes arteries and enhances blood flow. Chocoholics should be aware that not all candy bars are chock full of flavonoids.
Your best bet is dark chocolate, but the choice is set to expand as the big confectionery manufacturers capitalise on the life-enhancing qualities of their products and start to produce special flavonoid-rich bars.
"If you live to be 100, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age"
Actor George Burns, who died aged 100 in 1996
Whatever your pleasure, the great news is that pleasure itself is good for you. Really good. Not only does it counteract stress, it also causes our cells to release a natural antibiotic called enkelytin. Whether it's chocolate, coffee, having a tipple or a flutter, a spot of sunbathing (with suncream), a romantic (or more carnal) encounter, or another form of sinful pleasure, think of it as self-medication. Just make sure that if you have a vice, you enjoy it.
Helen Phillips
5 Exercise the little grey cells
Your best shot at living out a century with an active enough mind to know about it is probably to become a nun. Not only are there many centenarians among the Minnesota nuns studied by David Snowdon of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, but some of them also seem very resilient to the effects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Not prepared to take holy orders for the sake of your continuing mental health? Then you had better be smart in the first place. By our mid-twenties, our mental faculties have already reached their peak in terms of reasoning, spatial awareness and memory. After that, things start to decline. The best way to get around this is to start with some excess capacity. Study after study has shown that intelligence, good education, literacy and high-status jobs all seem to protect people from the mental ravages of old age and provide some resistance to the symptoms, if not the brain shrinkage, of dementia. Brain researchers and doctors are starting to refer to it as brain or cognitive reserve.
Some think the effect is simply about having a long way to fall. Others suspect it is more about greater mental efficiency or having alternative options and back-up plans for solving any given problem. Either way, cognitive reserve is a hot research area right now. It seems that boosting your mental capacity might have as potent an effect as the drugs that are already available for dementia. Better yet, it is never too late to begin your cognitive workout. Mental gymnastics are definitely on the agenda - everything from reading to learning new things to interacting with people rather than being a couch potato. But don't stop with mental exercises. At least one study has shown that older mice produced new brain cells faster and learned quicker than sedentary creatures when they were put on an exercise programme.
"If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself"
Hermann Doernemann, who at the age of 110 was the oldest man in Germany, speaking in 2003
All this helps explain the remarkable mental health of those centenarian nuns, who fill their advancing years with both physical and mental activity, from gardening and crosswords to reading, walking, conversation and knitting.
Helen Phillips
6 Smile!
Centenarians have surprisingly little in common, but one thing most do share is their love of a laugh. "These people are gregarious and fun to be with," says Tom Perls from the New England Centenarian Study. He reckons the key is how they respond to stress. Although a little stress may be good for you, sustained and severe stress can cut your life expectancy. Perls suspects that people born with a sunny disposition cope better with stress, which increases their chances of reaching a ripe old age.
Evidence is mounting in his favour. The study of nuns in Minnesota reveals that those who had the most positive outlook on life during adolescence and young adulthood are also the healthiest in old age. Optimism improves the prospects of patients with heart conditions, and it increases your chances of recovering from infectious diseases. A positive attitude can also help stave off the ravages of time. Earlier this year, researchers from the Institute of Mental Health in Delft, the Netherlands, reported that older men with an optimistic outlook on life were only half as likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease over a 15-year period as those whose worldview was more negative, regardless of their initial state of health. In another new study researchers from Yale University found that over-70s who held negative stereotypes of the elderly were more likely to suffer hearing loss over a three-year period than those who saw oldies in a more positive light. Hearing loss, which can be very isolating, is the third most common chronic condition among the over-65s.
What seems to be happening, explains Janet Lord of the University of Birmingham, UK, is that positive thinking lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which dampens the immune system. Its effects are offset by another hormone called DHEA, but levels of DHEA start to decline from around the age of 30, dropping to less than 20 per cent of their maximum value by the time we reach 70. That, she says, is why we gradually become less able to fight off diseases as we age. In addition, cortisol has adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and the brain. A new study from the University of Edinburgh, UK, for example, reveals that older men with high levels of cortisol have smaller anterior cingulate cortices. Shrinkage of this brain region is linked with Alzheimer's disease and depression in older people, and the researchers think it may be caused by stress.
Some people are born laid-back, but even if you are a natural stress bunny, there are things you can do to reduce your cortisol levels. "These include t'ai chi, exercise, having faith, meditation and yoga," says Perls. "Even a deep breath can reboot you." He cites the "relaxation response", devised three decades ago by Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. It couldn't be simpler. Just sit comfortably, close your eyes and listen to your breathing. On each outward breath, repeat a calming word, sound or phrase and gently rid your mind of any intrusive thoughts. For best results, repeat each morning for 10 to 20 minutes. Benson describes the effect as "the physiological opposite of stress", and uses it to treat a variety of conditions, including depression, high blood pressure and insomnia.
Relaxation is all well and good, but there is an even more enjoyable way to achieve similar results. Those happy centenarians have it sussed. It turns out that laughing and smiling also reduce cortisol levels. A happier life is likely to be a longer one - and that's surely something to smile about.
Kate Douglas
"I've only ever had one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it"
Jeanne Calment speaking on her 110th birthday. She died in 1997 age 122, making her officially the oldest person ever
7 Nurture your inner hypochondriac
One obvious piece of advice for anyone wishing to become a healthy centenarian is this: if you're sick, go see a doctor. But what if you are ill and don't know it? Lots of life-threatening diseases have innocuous beginnings, and some remain symptom-free until it is too late. Clearly, it can pay to anticipate the worst. So, what are the most effective preventive measures to take, and when should you take them?
Those searching for an early warning system will find a bewildering range of options. A few hundred dollars buys you a full-body CT scan, capable of spotting silent tumours or early signs of heart disease. Numerous cancers and diseases such as diabetes can be picked up early with other simple tests. Meanwhile, genetic screens can tell you whether you have an elevated risk of developing, say, breast cancer, so that you can be extra vigilant.
At first glance these all look like must-haves. The tests either tell you you're as fit as a fiddle, or alert you to a problem you didn't know was there. Win-win. Unfortunately,it is not as simple as that.
Take prostate cancer. Across the world, millions of middle-aged men regularly have blood tests for high levels of an antibody called PSA, which can indicate prostate cancer. The test has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, but it is no guarantee. Many men with prostate cancer do not have high PSA, and two out of three men with an elevated score do not have cancer. What's more, even if the test does find cancer, treating it can sometimes do more harm than good, as most prostate cancers are so slow-growing that they wouldn't be fatal even to a man who lived to 150.
The Prostate Specific Antigen test is notoriously problematic, but most screening techniques suffer similar drawbacks. First, there is always a risk of false positives, leading to psychological stress and unnecessary medical intervention. If the false positives don't get you, the false negatives might: a clean test result might mean you rest too easy and ignore real symptoms. Sometimes the screens themselves are bad for you. A full-body CT scan, for example, delivers a dose of radiation equivalent to 500 chest X-rays. A single scan won't do any significant damage but if you go for one every couple of years you may be taking an undue risk. Perhaps worst of all, there may be times when the tests find something, yet there is nothing that can be done for you.

Which prophylactic measures are worth it, then? There is no easy answer. In the UK, the National Health Service will only pay for screens that have passed 19 strict tests of risk versus benefit. That has narrowed the field to just a few types of screening: bowel cancer for 60 to 69-year-olds; mammograms for women aged 50 to 70; cervical screening for women aged 25 to 64. The NHS also advises people to self-examine their breasts or testes for lumps and is considering screening overweight and obese people for diabetes. Anyone with a family history of breast or colon cancer can request a genetic test to see whether they have inherited a risky gene, and doctors will perform PSA tests after counseling.
Beyond that, it's a case of you pays your money and you takes your pick, but do seek professional advice. In other words,go see a doctor.
Graham Lawton
8 Watch what you eat
There's good news and bad news for anyone who wants to eat their way to 100. The good news is that you may be able to do it. The bad news is that there won't be much eating involved.
The only proven strategy to extend lifespan is caloric restriction - deliberately eating just enough to get by. This extends the lives of mice by about 30 per cent, and if humans enjoyed the same boost that would be enough to nudge life expectancy past the century mark.
Is it worth the deprivation? A growing number of people think so, and new evidence suggests that skimping on the doughnuts could indeed help you pile on the years. In April, researchers reported that people who ate 25 per cent less than usual for three months had lower levels of insulin in their blood, a lower body temperature and less DNA damage, all of which are generally associated with longevity. No one knows yet whether the benefit is lasting: longer-term studies are under way but, for obvious reasons, we are unlikely ever to have the gold-standard experiment in which people are randomly assigned to normal or restricted diets to see which group lives longest.
On the other hand, sceptics such as Lloyd Demetrius of Harvard University doubt that caloric restriction would extend your lifespan by any more than a year or two at best. While many people think the diet works by lowering an individual's metabolic rate and so reducing the production of damaging free radicals, he believes that metabolic stability is the key to ageing. This, he argues, is why cutting calories is unlikely to have much effect in humans. Animals such as mice that have evolved to cope with feast and famine environments have highly fluctuating metabolisms, and can benefit from caloric restriction, but our metabolic rate is already stable.
Even if you don't live longer, constant hunger will probably make life feel longer. If that thought doesn't appeal, perhaps the best alternative is to follow the advice of your old nanny - or at least the nanny state.
The UK Department of Health is pushing harder than ever for Britons to eat up their five portions a day of fruit and veg, following research carried out on its behalf recently which found that this increases longevity by three years.
The theory is that foods high in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, delay ageing by mopping up free radicals. Unfortunately other evidence on the effect is equivocal, but that may be because the experiments used antioxidant supplements rather than real foods. Meanwhile, there is stronger evidence supporting the assertion that fresh fruit and vegetables - especially greens - help keep ageing brains sharp.
If this all sounds too insubstantial to warrant a change in your eating habits, consider two facts: studies of centenarians make it clear that a healthy diet is an extremely important factor in longevity, and eating high-calorie, fat-laden foods is one of the surest ways to an early grave.
Bob Holmes
9 Get a life
So, you're well on your way to reaching the big one-zero-zero. How are you going to make the most of those extra years? What you need is a bit of excitement along the way. Take some risks. Not only will new experiences bring you pleasure, you may also find they have added benefits.
For a start, a novel intellectual challenge will keep your mind sharp and could also ward off diseases. Marian Diamond of the University of California, Berkeley, has found that playing bridge boosts the immune system. Her studies with lab rats even suggest that intellectual novelty promotes longevity: rodents given mazes to solve and toys to play with lived 50 per cent longer. There is also plenty of evidence to indicate that the kind of buzz you get from travelling, learning a new language, completing a sudoku puzzle or creating your own artistic masterpiece helps delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's.
If that seems a bit tame, what about the excitement of an adventure sport - after all, you know that exercise is good for you. Admittedly, some of the most thrilling - think mountaineering, cave diving or base jumping - are not entirely compatible with longevity, but maybe you can justify the risk by making a trade-off. If you smoke, quit now. Or cut down on some other major life-shortening habit such as binge drinking, reckless driving or cheeseburgers. Alternatively, if you want a thrill but cannot justify the risk, go for safer kicks such as fairground rides, amateur dramatics, a new lover or bungee jumping.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that getting your pulse racing extends longevity, but regular thrills will help to make your life feel longer. One of the more tiresome aspects of ageing is that while the days seem to drag, the years rush by. This paradox is not simply subjective: researchers are finding that our brains actually oscillate with a tick-tock that marks the passage of time, and this winds down as we grow older, making time seem to fly (New Scientist, 4 February, p 34). As yet, scientists have not come up with a way to speed the clock back up, but building temporal landmarks with memorable experiences can create the opposite illusion, so the years seem to pass more slowly.
Longevity is surely not an end in itself. So, live a little! As T. S. Eliot said: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
Kate Douglas
From issue 2554 of New Scientist magazine, 03 June 2006, page 35

Conscientiousness is the secret to a long life

  • 23 October 2008
  • From New Scientist Print Edition.
  • Andy Coghlan

Be conscientious

People who live a scrupulous life generally live longer than the average Joe

EXECUTIVES who build successful companies, Olympic athletes and even some US presidents are all likely to live longer than the average Joe - because they are more conscientious.

The life-prolonging benefits of a scrupulous life have come to light from a comparison of 20 previous studies which together rated 8900 people for conscientiousness using a standard psychological survey, and also recorded the age they died.

Howard Friedman and Margaret Kern at the University of California at Riverside found that people who were less conscientious were 50 per cent more likely to die at any given age, on average, than those of the same age who scored highly

Meaning?? How much longer do they live - in years. Relative v Absolute figures.

(Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.505). This exceeds the effects of socioeconomic status and intelligence, which are also known to increase longevity.

Friedman and Kern then divided the most conscientious study subjects into subgroups, and found that high achievers were most likely to live the longest. "These are individuals who are hard-working, resourceful, confident and ambitious," says Kern. Second in line were orderly people. Finally, traits of responsibility and reliability were also significant. "These are people who are often seen as respectable members of the community, who contribute time and energy to society, cooperate with colleagues and neighbours, and are trustworthy," says Kern.

Friedman say

conscientious people do not live longer simply because they are boring or cautious, but admits they tend to "live lives that are more stable and less stressful".

"One of the studies we included looked at American presidents," says Kern. The first US president, George Washington, lived to be 67, double the life expectancy there at the time. "Washington was very conscientious, yet he certainly didn't live a boring life." For starters, he led his army to victory over Britain in the American revolutionary war.

Death - Delve deeper into the riddle of human mortality in our special report.

From issue 2679 of New Scientist magazine, 23 October 2008, page 10

Only 14% of men consume five a day

Diet & Nutrition
Only 14% of men consume five a day

Consumption of five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, by sex and age, 2004
Consumption of five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, by sex and age, 2004

It is recommended that a healthy diet should include at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables (excluding potatoes) a day. In 2004, 14 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women in England consumed five or more portions a day, while 8 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women consumed no fruit or vegetables.

The proportion eating the recommended amount increases with age. Among young people aged 16 to 24, 16 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women consumed an average of five or more portions a day. This compares with 32 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women aged 55 to 64.

There has been a marked change in the British diet since the early 1970s. There has been a long-term rise in the consumption of poultry and a fall in red meat (such as beef). In addition, the use of convenience food – both frozen and ready meals and snacks – has increased.

Men were more likely than women to be overweight (or obese), 67 per cent compared with 58 per cent. This compares with 58 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women ten years earlier.
Source: Health Survey of England
Published on 15 February 2006 at 2:30 pm

Eating & exercise

Eating & exercise
1 in 6 children were obese in 2002

Focus on Health

Obesity prevalence among adults: by sex, England
Obesity prevalence among adults: by sex, England

The prevalence of obesity in England has increased markedly among both adults and children since the mid 1990s. In 2002 it was similar for both sexes; the rate for boys and girls was 17 per cent and for adults was 23 per cent. In 1995 the equivalent figures were 10 per cent for boys and 12 per cent for girls, 15 per cent for men and 18 per cent for women.

There is no evidence that the average calorific intake or consumption of foods rich in fat and added sugar has increased in the UK since the mid 1980s. Men aged 19 to 64 in 2000/01 reported a daily energy intake of approximately 2,323 kcal (a reduction of 6 per cent since 1986/87). Women in the same age groups reported 1,642 kcal, a reduction of 3 per cent.

Reductions over the same period were also observed in the contribution of total fat to total energy intake (from 38 to 34 per cent in men and from 39 to 34 per cent in women) and saturated fat (from 15 to 13 per cent in men and from 17 to 13 per cent in women).

Percentage of adults who meet the physical activity recommendations: by sex and age, 2003, England
Percentage of adults who meet the physical activity recommendations: by sex and age, 2003, England

In 2003 the percentage of adults meeting the recommendations for physical activity in England declined with age for both sexes. Men were more active than women in every age group and their activity levels declined steadily with age. For women, activity levels remained the same until the 45 to 54 age group, and then declined.

Since the early 1990s there has been a steady increase in the use of cars and a decrease in walking and cycling to school or to work in GB. Among children aged five to ten, the proportion who walked to school fell from 61 per cent in 1992–94 to 52 per cent in 2002–03, mirroring the equivalent 10 percentage point rise in the proportion of school journeys by car, from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

Among adolescents aged 11 to 16, the proportion of journeys to school by car increased from 16 to 23 per cent over the same period, reflecting the combined decrease in journeys on foot or by bicycle.

For adults aged 17 and over, the proportion of journeys to work where the main mode of travel was by car rose from 66 per cent in 1989–91 to 71 per cent in 2002–03. During the same interval journeys that were mainly on foot fell from 13 to 10 per cent.
Sources: Health Survey for England 1994–2003, Department of Health
Welsh Health Survey 2003/04, National Assembly for Wales

View the latest HSE data on obesity.

Notes & definitions
Published on 17 January 2006 at 9:30 am

Mortality Circulatory diseases - leading cause group

Focus on Health

Age-standardised mortality rates for selected broad disease groups, 1911-2003, England & Wales
Age-standardised mortality rates for selected broad disease groups, 1911-2003, England & Wales

Circulatory diseases (which include heart disease and stroke) have remained the most common cause of death in England and Wales over the last 90 years among both males and females, with the exception of 1918 to 1919. The chart presents the four disease groups which have each at some time during the last 90 years been among the three disease groups with the highest mortality rates.

Male death rates from circulatory disease are higher than those for females: 300 per 100,000 males and 190 per 100,000 females in 2003. Within these, death rates from heart disease were higher than stroke among both males and females.

Cancers are now the second most common cause of death among males and females. Female cancer mortality rates decreased during the 1940s and 1950s, then rose to a peak in the late 1980s, declining again during the 1990s. Among males the pattern was different. Rates increased substantially to the late 1970s and then declined more rapidly from the 1990s.

Death rates for infectious and respiratory diseases declined in the first half of the 20th Century, although the 1918-19 influenza pandemic claimed the lives of 152,000 people in England and Wales alone and 20 to 50 million people worldwide. In the last 50 years death rates from circulatory diseases decreased more rapidly.

Selected causes of death: by sex and age, 2003
Selected causes of death: by sex and age, 2003

Mortality rates by cause of death vary with age and sex. In 2003, for young people aged 15 to 29, mortality rates were highest for injury and poisoning (40 per 100,000 population for men and 10 per 100,000 for women).

In adults aged 30 to 44, the major cause of death differed for men and women. Injury and poisoning was the leading cause of death for men (43 per 100,000 population) and cancers the leading cause of death for women (30 per 100,000 population).

For those aged 45 to 64, cancers were the leading cause of death among both men and women, with mortality rates of 240 per 100,000 for men and 213 per 100,000 for women. Injury mortality rates among men aged 45 to 64 were lower than for those aged 15 to 29 and 30 to 44.

In older people aged 65 to 84, circulatory diseases were the leading cause of death, for both men and women, although rates for all the causes shown in the table were higher than those at younger ages. The highest mortality rates were in people aged 85 and over, with circulatory diseases having the highest rates followed by respiratory diseases and cancers.
Source: Office for National Statistics

View the latest mortality data.

Notes & definitions
Published on 17 January 2006 at 9:30 am

Monday, 20 October 2008

Lower blood pressure by eating more fruit and vegetables

Lower blood pressure by eating more fruit and vegetables

Lower blood pressure by eating more fruit and vegetables

Eating more fruit and vegetables has been proven to help lower blood pressure.

Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre to keep your body in good condition. They also contain potassium, which helps to balance out the negative effects of salt. This has a direct effect on your blood pressure, helping to lower it.

Eat at least 5 portions a day

To help lower blood pressure, adults should eat at least 5 different portions of fruit and vegetables per day. A portion is 80 grams, or roughly the size of your fist.

The following amounts represent a portion:

  • A dessert bowl of salad
  • Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables
  • Three heaped tablespoons of pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans and so on)
  • One medium-sized fruit (apple, orange, pear or banana)
  • Two smaller fruits (plums, apricots, satsumas)
  • One slice of a large fruit (melon, pineapple or mango)
  • Two to three tablespoons of berries or grapes
  • A glass (150ml) of fruit or vegetable juice
  • One tablespoon of dried fruit

Not everything counts

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava and plantain are all vegetables, but they do not count towards your five a day total. However, you should still include them as part of your healthy eating.

Pulses, fruit juice and vegetable juice all count towards your five a day total. However they only count as one portion no matter how much you eat or drink.

10 ways to get the most from your fruit and vegetables

  • Don’t buy fruit and vegetable dishes that come with sauces. They often contain a lot of fat, salt and sugar.
  • Dried, frozen and tinned products can be just as good as fresh, but watch out for added salt, sugar or fats.
  • Vary the types of fruit and vegetables you eat. Each has different health benefits and it will keep your meals interesting. By eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables, you will ensure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs.
  • Don’t add sugar to fruit or salt to vegetables when you cook or serve them.
  • Try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables as soon as possible. They will lose their nutrients over time, so if you want to store your ingredients for a while, it is best to freeze them or buy frozen packets
  • Avoid leaving vegetables open to the air, light or heat if they have been cut. Always cover and chill them, but don't soak them because the vitamins and minerals can dissolve away.
  • Vegetables keep more of their vitamins and minerals if you lightly steam or bake them, instead of boiling or frying them.
  • If you boil vegetables, use as little water as possible to help keep the vitamins and minerals in them.
  • Experiment with other ways of cooking vegetables, such as roasting or grilling them, for new tastes and flavours.
  • Stir-fries are great for getting lots of vegetables into one meal. So are freshly-made soups.