NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

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Review recommends plain cigarette packs

4th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“The government has announced its support for the introduction of standardised cigarette packets, following a review,” BBC News reports. The review concludes that plain packaging would have a positive impact on public health. Who produced the review? The review was commissioned by Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, into whether the introduction of standardised cigarette packets would lead to a benefit in public health – specifically, in reducing the number of children who smoke. The review was produced by Sir Cyril Chantler, who served as a Consultant Paediatrician at Guy's Hospital and is now an ...

Is frequent mouthwash use linked to oral cancer?

4th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Experts warn using mouthwash more than twice a day can give you cancer," the Daily Mirror reports. The news comes from a European study that examined the oral health and dental hygiene of people diagnosed with cancers of the mouth, throat, vocal chords or oesophagus (collectively called "upper aerodigestive cancers"). The researchers found that people with the poorest oral health (including wearing dentures and bleeding gums) had a more than doubled risk of these cancers compared with those with the best oral health. Similarly, they found that those with the poorest dental care (including frequency of tooth brushing and visiting ...

Vegetarians have 'poorer quality of life' study claims

4th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Vegetarians are 'less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters’,'' The Independent reports. A study from Austria suggests there is an association between a vegetarian diet and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases. But before any meat eating readers start feeling smug, the study provides no proof that vegetarians are in poorer health than meat eaters. This was an Austrian survey which simply took a group of 330 people put into a general “vegetarian” category (some in this category were not exclusively vegetarian). They were matched with groups of people from three “carnivorous” categories; ranked in ...

Can warm-water exercise help high blood pressure?

3rd April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Working out in warm water could be a radical new cure for high blood pressure," the Mail Online reports. Results of a small study suggest that "hot aquarobics" may benefit people who had failed to respond to conventional treatment for high blood pressure. The study was a small randomised trial that included 32 people with high blood pressure that had not responded to at least three previous blood pressure medications. Those involved did not exercise regularly. They were randomly selected to do either 12 weeks of three hours of exercise a week in a swimming pool filled with warm water, ...

Ketamine tested as severe depression treatment

3rd April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“The illegal party drug ketamine is an ‘exciting’ and ‘dramatic’ new treatment for depression,” BBC News reports. A small study found that some people with severe depression responded well to the drug. The study involved people with severe depression (including people with depression as part of bipolar disorder) who had failed to respond to conventional treatments. They were treated with intravenous infusions of ketamine either once or twice a week for three weeks. Some people responded well to treatment; eight people (almost a third) experienced a significant improvement in depression symptoms. Though another seven people withdrew from the study – ...

New genetic clues about skin cancer

2nd April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Skin cancer: Genetic mutations 'warn of risk',” reports BBC News today. The science behind the headline involved sequencing the genetic material of 184 people with a strong family history of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. The aim was to identify previously unknown genetic variations that may increase the risk of melanoma; information that could possibly have a future role in the early detection of people with a high genetic risk. The genetic profiling narrowed in on variations in the POT1 gene, a gene involved in the protection of the ends of chromosomes, large bundles of densely ...

Probiotics 'no good' at treating infant colic

2nd April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Probiotics 'don't ease' baby colic,” the Mail Online reports. A small, though well-conducted, study suggests that probiotics – commonly touted as “friendly bacteria” – could actually make symptoms worse. Colic is a poorly understood condition in which otherwise healthy babies cry excessively and frequently. While not a serious threat to a baby’s health, colic can be extremely distressing for parents – especially those of the sleep deprived variety (is there any other kind?). The study included 167 young babies with colic and looked at whether giving them daily drops of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) improved symptoms, in comparison ...

Single men risk ignoring melanoma symptoms

2nd April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Men who live alone at greater skin cancer risk,” The Daily Telegraph reports. The headlines are based on a population study from Sweden, which followed almost 30,000 people diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer. Despite the headline, the study did not find that men who live alone were at greater risk of developing melanoma. Rather, it found that in men who did develop melanoma, those living by themselves were 40% more likely to have had a more advanced stage of disease at the time of diagnosis. Men living alone were also less likely to ...

No proof Earl Grey can fight heart disease

1st April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“A cup of Earl Grey 'as good as statins' at fighting heart disease,” reports The Daily Telegraph, entirely without proof. The science behind this headline did not show Earl Grey was as good as statins (a class of drugs used to lower high cholesterol) in people. The study was early stage research on a small group of rats in a laboratory. None of the research involved humans, tea, or any assessment of heart disease. The research involved an extract called HGMF, taken from the bergamot fruit; a citrus fruit used to flavour teas such as Earl Grey. Rats with high ...

Statins 'improve erectile dysfunction symptoms'

1st April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“How statins could boost your love life: Cholesterol lowering drugs ‘reduce erectile dysfunction’,” reports the Daily Mail. The paper reports on a small but well-conducted analysis of existing data into statin use and symptoms of erectile dysfunction (inability to obtain or maintain an erection). Statins are widely used to reduce cholesterol levels in an attempt to prevent cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks. The researchers’ analysis found that statins did improve scores on the International Inventory of Erectile Dysfunction – a well-validated “scorecard” for erectile dysfunction. The researchers state that the increase seen was equivalent to about one-third of the ...

Call to make 5 a day fruit and veg into '7 a day'

1st April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“7 a day fruit and veg 'saves lives’” reports BBC News, while The Daily Telegraph states that “10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day” is best. The headlines have been prompted by the results of a UK-based study that used information on more than 65,000 randomly selected adults who were participating in the Health Survey for England. This is an ongoing health survey that looks at health and lifestyle factors such as fruit and vegetable consumption. The researchers followed up participants for an average of 7.7 years after their initial participation. The researchers found that eating fruit and vegetables ...

First cat-to-human TB infections reported

28th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Cats have passed TB to humans for the first time,” the Daily Mail reports. Authorities are closely monitoring the situation and the risk of further transmission has been described as “very low”.The headline is based on the news that two people in England have developed tuberculosis (TB) after contact with a domestic cat infected with Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). This bacterium is a leading cause of TB in cattle and a less common cause, in other species. This is newsworthy as these are the first documented cases of cat-to-human transmission anywhere in the world. Between December 2012 and March 2013, ...

Smoke-free laws linked to improved child health

28th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Laws banning smoking in public places have had a positive impact on child health," BBC News reports. Researchers found lower rates of preterm births and childhood severe asthma cases after the introduction of smoke-free laws. 11 studies published between 2008 and 2013 were reviewed, in a bid to examine the effect smoking bans around the world have had on child health. In particular, the effects on preterm birth, low birth weight and childhood hospital attendances for asthma were noted. They found there was a 10% drop in preterm births and childhood asthma after the introduction of smoking bans, but that ...

Doctors launch new tool to measure your 'heart age'

27th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“People are being urged to find out their "true" heart age in order to cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes,” BBC News reports. Doctors have put together a new risk calculator called JBS3 that can tell you the real “age” of your heart. Risk calculators for cardiovascular diseases or CVDs (conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels) are nothing new. The “granddaddy” of risk calculators – the Framingham risk calculator – has been available for years. But this new JBS3 calculator has the benefits of: being easily accessible online providing what is thought to be an accurate ...

Could a DNA test predict obesity risk in children?

27th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"A DNA blood test can predict obesity levels in children as they grow up, scientists claim," the Metro reports. The test, which is based on measuring "switches" in DNA, may help identify children who would benefit from early intervention. This was a small study of 40 children who had their DNA analysed during early childhood. The test is based on a process called methylation. This is a chemical process that can influence the effects of genes on the body (gene expression), essentially "turning off" certain genes. Methylation can have both positive and negative effects. The analysis did find an association ...

Adding fluoride to water does prevent tooth decay

26th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Consider mass fluoridation of water, says health body," BBC News reports. The news follows study by Public Health England providing compelling evidence that fluoridation of mains water is a safe and effective way of preventing tooth decay. Fluoridation has been morally and ethically controversial in some quarters and has raised health concerns because it affects the water supply distributed to every home in an area and so is “unavoidable”. Public Health England carried out the research into the impact of adding fluoride to the water supply to assess the benefits and address some of the health concerns. The research found ...

NICE: 'schools should provide morning-after pill'

26th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

New guidelines on contraceptive services for young people issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have prompted widespread coverage. The headlines have focused on a number of elements, with The Daily Telegraph reporting that, "Schools are told to give free morning-after pills and condoms to teenage girls to cut unwanted pregnancies", while The Daily Express claims that there is "Outrage as NHS says 'give pupils the morning-after pill'." The media coverage largely focuses on recommendations to: provide free emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill (which includes provision by suitably qualified nurses, including school nurses, and ...

Plain cigarette packaging doesn't work, says industry funded study

26th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Unbranded cigarettes could mean people smoke more, experts warn,” The Daily Telegraph reports. However, the evidence provided by experts and reported on by the media has not been peer reviewed, and their work has been funded by a major cigarette manufacturer. The news story is based partly on an analysis of smoking trends in Australia and partly on new industry data on tobacco shipped to retailers in the same country. We have only appraised the former of the two.In 2012, Australia introduced a plain tobacco packaging law. The country's law makers believed that stripping branding from cigarettes packs and including ...

Back pain 'leading cause of disability,' study finds

25th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Back pain behind 'more disability than any other condition'," ITV News reports after a new study found that the condition may now be the leading cause of disability worldwide. The study looked at how much disability is caused by lower back pain globally. It found that lower back pain caused more disability than any other condition, affecting nearly 1 in 10 people and becoming more common with increasing age. The condition was most common in Western Europe, followed by North Africa and the Middle East, and was lowest in the Caribbean and Latin America. The results of this research – ...

Could Botox be used to treat severe asthma?

25th March 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Botox is commonly used to smooth out wrinkles, but new research suggests it could be used to help asthma sufferers,” the Mail Online report. While early results seem encouraging, the research being reported on is still at proof of concept stage. For most people, asthma can be controlled using conventional treatments such as inhalers. However, some people's asthma symptoms are resistant to treatment (intractable). The researchers make the case that abnormal vocal cord movement, caused by muscle spasms, may be responsible for some of these intractable asthma cases. So they tested Botox (botulinum toxin) – a powerful neurotoxin that can ...