NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

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Breast cancer screening 'halves deaths'

7th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Breast cancer screening ‘works and we should move on’,” is the slightly confusing headline of The Daily Telegraph. It says that a new study shows that the risk of dying from breast cancer is halved in women who undergo mammography screening. The newspaper rather prematurely claims that this “draws a line under the controversy”. The Australian study looked at the mammography screening history of 427 women who had died from breast cancer, and compared this with the screening history of a group of healthy women. Simply put, they found that women who died from breast cancer were less likely than ...

Fish oil can 'make children less naughty'

7th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Parents should give their children a daily dose of fish oils if they want to boost their brain power and stop them being naughty the Daily Express claims. This advice is highly premature. The news follows research into supplements containing DHA, which is the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, seafood and algae. The trial looked at the effects of DHA on reading, memory and behaviour in children. In the study, children aged 7 to 9 who were underperforming in reading were given either DHA supplements or a placebo (dummy pill) for 16 weeks. The researchers actually found that, overall, ...

Tackles on the rugby pitch 'increase dementia risk' claims

6th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Playing rugby could increase the chance of dementia if players receive repeated knocks to the head, The Daily Telegraph has reported. So should ‘egg-chasers’ – both amateur and professionals - be worried? The quick answer is probably not as The Telegraph has seriously dropped the ball when it comes to reporting on this study because it actually looking at an entirely different sport - American football. The study looked at retired American football players and found that they were at threefold risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population. Neurodegenerative diseases are debilitating diseases where there is progressive ...

Altered sleep patterns 'early sign' of Alzheimer’s

6th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Bad sleep may predict Alzheimer’s,” the BBC has reported, saying that “problems sleeping may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s if a study in mice also applies to people”. This news is based on research into the association between sleep patterns and accumulation of plaques in the brains of mice. These plaques, which are made up of clumps of small proteins in the brain, are a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. They are reported to start to form in the brain 10 to 15 years before symptoms such as memory problems appear. The researchers investigated whether the early stages of plaque ...

Acupuncture has 'hidden dangers'

5th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Hundreds of NHS patients undergoing acupuncture have suffered complications including dizziness, collapsed lungs and even needles being left in their bodies, the Daily Mail warned today. The story comes from a review looking at the harms reported from acupuncture treatments given within the NHS. Over a three-year period, researchers identified 325 patient safety incidents related to having acupuncture treatment. The most commonly reported adverse incidents (accounting for 95.5% of reports) were judged to present no or very low risk of harm to patients, and included: acupuncture needles being left in patients for longer than prescribed dizziness temporary loss of consciousness ...

Can you really be both 'fat and fit?'

5th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

People “can be obese yet physically healthy and fit and at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer”, according to BBC News. This counterintuitive headline stems from a study that was assessing health outcomes for people who were obese but relatively fit, with only one or no risk factors for “metabolic syndrome”. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when people have multiple risk factors, such as high blood pressure, that make them more prone to diabetes or cardiovascular disease (CVDs). Researchers found that the “metabolic healthy” obese group were significantly less likely to develop a CVD or cancer, or die as ...

Frozen IVF embryos leads to 'healthier babies'

4th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“IVF embryos that were frozen may result in healthier babies,” reports The Guardian. The news is based on a study that combined the results of previously published studies to look at outcomes for the mother and child during pregnancy and just after birth in pregnancies resulting from the transfer of fresh and frozen IVF embryos. During IVF “fresh” embryos are usually planted into a woman’s womb once an egg has been successfully fertilised with their partner’s sperm. Some women choose to have one or more embryos frozen and then stored, for a number of reasons, for implantation at a later ...

Eating organic food 'won’t make you healthier'

4th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Organic food is not healthier,” The Daily Telegraph advises. The news is based on a review of a large number of studies comparing the health effects of organic foods to conventional foods. While there is no internationally agreed definition of “organic”, most people understand it to mean: foods grown without the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals meat taken from animals that have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones Many champions of organic food, such as Prince Charles, have claimed that food grown organically is healthier and more nutritious. However, this review found no strong evidence to ...

E-cigarettes 'may damage lungs'

3rd September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Electronic cigarettes could 'damage your lungs' as they cause less oxygen to be absorbed by the blood,” reports the Daily Mail. The news is based on a press release of preliminary findings of a small study investigating the short-term effects of smoking an ‘e-cigarette’, commonly known as ‘vaping’. The study looked at the lung function of non-smokers and smokers with and without lung conditions. According to the press release, researchers found that ‘smoking’ a single e-cigarette for 10 minutes caused an increase in airway resistance, blocking the air getting into and out of the lungs. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are devices ...

Glass shape 'affects' drinking speed

3rd September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Using a curved glass could get you drunk quicker, scientists say,” the Sun has reported. The news comes after researchers found that, on average, people drank alcohol more quickly from a curvy glass, compared with a straight one. This experimental study aimed to look at the influence of two factors on how quickly people drank - the type of drink and the type of glass used. Participants took about four minutes longer to drink the same volume of alcohol from a straight glass compared with a curved glass. The researchers argue that there is a possible connection between drinking speed ...

Healthy lifestyle in your 70s can 'add six years' to lifespan

31st August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Being active and living a healthy lifestyle into your 70s can make a huge difference to your life expectancy, the BBC reported today. The story is based on a large Swedish study of people aged 75 and over, which found that those with a healthy lifestyle (such as not smoking and taking regular exercise) lived, on average, over 5 years longer than those with unhealthy lifestyles. Interestingly, the researchers found that factors not directly related to physical health, such as having an active social life and regular involvement in leisure activities, also contributed to increased longevity. The findings also applied ...

Flu can spread before symptoms show

31st August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Flu can be spread long before symptoms appear,” according to the Daily Mail. The news reports followed a study aiming to investigate whether someone could pass the flu virus onto others before they themselves have developed any symptoms such as sneezing and a high temperature. The researchers infected ferrets with a strain of the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) virus and found that they were able to spread the virus to other ferrets before they developed symptoms. When the researchers housed these pre-symptomatic ferrets with three others, all three became infected. When they housed another three ferrets in neighbouring cages, two ...

Aggressive personality 'doubles stroke risk'

30th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

The Daily Mail informed us today that aggressive behaviour ‘doubles risk of stroke’ and that ‘being aggressive, quick tempered and impatient can increase the risk of stroke as much as smoking’. This headline conjures up the old saying to ‘burst a blood vessel’ when angry, and is based on a small study that compared people admitted to hospital with a stroke with healthy people. Researchers aimed to investigate whether particular behaviours such as feeling stressed or depressed and a ‘type A personality’ increased the risk of stroke in a population aged below 65 years living in Madrid. A type A ...

Multiple abortions 'link' to premature births

30th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Repeat abortions linked to premature birth,” BBC News has reported, with the Daily Mail website adding that multiple abortions could cause “life-threatening problems in later pregnancy”. The story is based on Finnish research that looked at the effect of induced abortions on a subsequent first birth. The study found that women who had three or more abortions were at slightly increased risk of giving birth prematurely and of having a subsequent low birth weight in the baby. While the Daily Mail’s claims that multiple abortions could lead to “life-threatening problems” is technically correct, its tone is needlessly alarmist. In the ...

4 cups of coffee a day 'protects against bowel cancer'

29th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

‘Six cups of coffee a day could cut the risk of bowel cancer by 40 per cent’ the Daily Mail explains, while The Daily Telegraph points out that just ‘four cups a day’ leads to a 15% rate of reduction. The news follows a long-term study that tracked the behaviour and associated health outcomes (cohort study) of just under half a million Americans over the course of 10 years. At the start of the study participants completed questionnaires on their diet and lifestyle and during the follow-up period the researchers looked at the number of colorectal cancers (commonly known as ...

Nut consumption in pregnancy linked to 'reduced child allergy risk'

29th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

The Daily Telegraph advises that ‘Eating nuts in pregnancy 'reduces chance of childhood allergy'. The report is based on data collected as part of a larger study into the health and lifestyle of Danish women. Researchers asked more than 60,000 women halfway through their pregnancy about their diet, including information on how often they ate nuts. The researchers then checked the health of the women’s babies after they gave birth, specifically looking at whether the child had been diagnosed with asthma by the time they were 18 months, or had symptoms of wheeze. This was followed by a second assessment ...

Marmite 'stops spread' of superbugs

28th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Love it or hate it, Marmite could stop the spread of MRSA”, reports The Daily Telegraph. The news is based on the results of a laboratory study which found that vitamin B3, which is found in a number of food products such as Marmite, can increase the ‘germ-killing’ activity of a certain type of white blood cell known as neutrophils. This in turn could help prevent or treat infection with so-called superbugs such as MRSA (meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). However, the claims that Marmite can treat these types of infection is ‘spreading it on a bit thick’. The concentrations of vitamin ...

Does smoking 'dope' turn you into one?

28th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Adolescents who are regular users of cannabis are at risk of permanent damage to their intelligence, attention span and memory,” reported the Guardian. The news was based on an impressive and wide-ranging study of 1,037 New Zealand individuals who were followed from birth up to the age of 38. Researchers aimed to investigate the association between persistent cannabis use and mental function over a 20-year period and to see whether greater decline was seen among those who started using cannabis in their teens. They found that those who did and then carried on using cannabis into later life experienced a ...

Measles cases in England 'almost double'

24th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Measles cases 'almost double' after outbreaks”, BBC News has reported. The BBC attributes the rise, in part, to recent outbreaks in Sussex and Merseyside. In a balanced report, the BBC cites new infectious disease statistics from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), that it says also show that rubella (German measles) infections are higher than in any of the previous 9 years. What does the HPA say about the number of measles and rubella cases? The HPA says that in the first six months of 2012 there were 964 cases of measles compared to 497 in the same period in 2011. ...

Fertility clue for recurring miscarriage

24th August 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

‘Super-fertility’ may explain some miscarriages, BBC News has reported. It says that the wombs of some women are ‘too good at letting embryos implant’, even those that are of poor quality and so should be rejected. The story, also covered by The Daily Telegraph, is based on a small laboratory study. In the study, researchers examined the theory that in some women who have suffered unexplained recurrent miscarriages (the loss of three of more consecutive pregnancies) the lining of their womb (uterus) is not able to discriminate between “high-quality” embryos and “low-quality” embryos. These low quality embryos would have little ...