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Drink danger on civvy street

With the recent 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war, an apposite piece of research explored how ex-soldiers may turn to alcohol to cope with readjusting to civilian life.

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that the difficulties they experienced adjusting to life on civvy street was the main influence in whether or not they developed a drink problem.

Doctors monitored the experiences of over 1,000 soldiers who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan during 2008 or 2009. They were interviewed every year about adjusting to civilian life and their relationship with alcohol.

The results suggest that time helps adjust to life as a civilian, but rates of alcohol misuse are significantly higher than the population in general.

Concerns over CT scan boom

A report from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment last month found that the number of CT scans carried out in 2013-14 was in the region of five million, a new high.

Due to the very high levels of radiation that these scans expose the body to, there are now concerns that they could be doing more harm than good. These concerns follow a study carried out in 2012 that suggested children may be more likely to develop leukaemia or brain cancer if exposed to multiple (ten or more) CT scans during their childhood.

In addition, the research found women with certain genes — particularly BRAC1, the gene linked to breast cancer — may be overly sensitive to radiation.

There is particular concern at needless scans, for example some of those included in screening packages.

Obesity linked to 17 cancers

According to new research published last month by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), not only does obesity increase the risks of heart attacks or strokes, it also increases the risk of developing some of the most common cancers. This is particularly relevant as recent figures show that 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women in the UK are either overweight or obese, making the UK the most obese country in western Europe.

Scientists at the LSHTM set out to investigate the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the most common cancers. They monitored over five million people for a period of seven years. Results showed that BMI was linked to 17 of the 22 most common cancers. The cancers included colon, liver, ovaries and postmenopausal breast cancer. The research was published in The Lancet medical journal.

Diabetes drug aids longevity

The drugs do work
The drugs do work

Diabetes, as discussed by Keith Vaz MP in his opinion piece in this issue, is a serious pubic health problem. Around three million people in the UK are diagnosed with it and a reported 850,000 are living with the condition undiagnosed. It is predicted that by 2025 there will be around five million people living in Britain with diabetes, primarily as a result of obesity and the ageing population.

An interesting piece of research into the common diabetes drug metformin published last month threw up some unexpected results. Researchers at Cardiff University set out to investigate whether the drug would have a significant effect on lifespan when given to individuals with diabetes and to those who didn’t have the condition. Studies conducted on mice showed that metformin increased their life expectancy by one fifth.

Researchers monitored 180,000 participants over six years, half of whom were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, while the other half did not have the condition.

The results showed that the rate of survival was almost the same in the two groups, but when factors such as increased obesity levels in the diabetic group were considered, those given metformin had a 15 per cent higher life expectancy. This points to an additional two or three years on top of the average life expectancy. Metformin has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-cardiovascular disease benefits, and it’s thought that this may account for the strange finding. Further investigations into metformin to discover its benefits in healthy people are under way.

An aspirin a day…

A daily dose of aspirin has the potential to reduce a person’s risk of being diagnosed with or dying from certain types of cancer — of the bowel, stomach, oesophagus, lungs, breast and prostate — according to a new study from researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

This was discovered following an extensive analysis of 200 studies that had previously taken place looking at both the pros and cons of taking aspirin on a regular basis. Scientists concluded that the drug could reduce the risk of bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer developing by 30 to 40 per cent.

Therefore, doctors predict that if all over-50s were to take a daily 75 mg dose of aspirin over a ten-year period, approximately 122,000 lives could be saved. For more on aspirin, read Atticus Thompson’s analysis on who should and shouldn’t be taking it on page 18.

Can vitamin D fight dementia?

Memories are made of this
Memories are made of this

According to new research, individuals with low levels of vitamin D in later life may be more likely to develop dementia.

A study conducted by doctors at the University of Exeter reported that the vitamin is found in some foods, though most people get it from exposure to sunlight. But as people get older, their skin becomes less successful at using this light to make vitamin D.

At the beginning of the analysis, all participants were healthy, with none having been diagnosed with dementia or reporting a past incidence of a heart attack or stroke.

It found that individuals with good levels of vitamin D only had a one in ten chance of developing dementia in the future, while those who were significantly deficient with regard to the vitamin had a one in five risk of being diagnosed with the condition.

For more on the evidence behind taking vitamin supplements, read Victoria Lambert’s guide in this issue.

Short workout, big benefits

A real lift
A real lift

Short bursts of high-intensity exercise could be enough to boost the health and wellbeing of older people, according to a new study.

Researchers invited a group of over-65s into a lab twice a week for six weeks for short, high-intensity exercise.

Blood pressure decreased by an average of 9 per cent, the participants found it easier to get oxygen to their muscles and they also struggled less with daily chores or walking the dog.

The benefits of regular physical activity are tangible, with a recent study showing that people who exercised at least once a week were three to four times more likely to avoid Alzheimer’s disease, depression, heart disease and diabetes than those who remained inactive. Read Freddy Gray’s experience of high-intensity training in the next issue of Spectator Health, due out at the end of November.