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Environment

No leukaemia link to power lines

There is no increased risk of contracting leukaemia for children who live beneath high-voltage power lines compared with their counterparts who do not, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Oxford looked at data on 16,500 children who developed the disease in the UK between 1962 and 2008, then checked them against 20,000 children born in the same area who did not.

It was found that there was no increased risk for youngsters living close to power lines from the 1980s onwards. However, there did appear to be a correlation in the 1960s and 1970s for children living within 600 metres of power lines.

Last September, researchers at Oxford also concluded that there is no link between living close to nuclear power plants and developing leukaemia as a child.

Statins

Hold fire on the Earl Grey

A study last month seemed to suggest that Earl Grey tea was as good as lowering cholesterol as statins. Unfortunately, this was a case of over-excitement by some sections of the media. The research looked at the effect of an extract of the bergamot fruit called HGMF in lowering fats in the blood in rats. It did show the effect was similar to rats given a statin in lowering the cholesterol. But it was only a tiny study, done in animals and not humans and anyway, the rats were given a concentrated extract of bergamot, not tea. So it’s a bit premature to switch from your statin to Earl Grey just yet. Rats! For more on statins, read our cover piece by Dr James Le Fanu.

Cancer

A call that may be a life-saver

Cancer patients could be damaging their chances of long-term survival because they are failing to get their symptoms checked by a doctor early enough, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London (UCL) asked 14,320 cancer patients how long they had waited to see a doctor after experiencing worrying signs that their health might be faltering.

It was found that the average was ten days, but this increased to 22 and 30 for oesophageal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer respectively. Many patients reported not wanting to hassle their GP or assuming that their symptoms were due to a less serious illness.

However, the researchers warned that waiting could result in cancer spreading and becoming harder to treat.

Vitamin C

Does it boost chemotherapy?

Yum! Vitamin C
Yum! Vitamin C

Vitamin C could be beneficial to patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment, US doctors have discovered.

Research was carried out at the University of Kansas to test whether the vitamin could be effective for patients with ovarian cancer. Vitamin C has previously been used to treat the disease, but when taken by mouth, it has not been proven to have any significant effect on improving cancer treatment.

However, in this latest study, it was discovered that injecting vitamin C into patients receiving chemotherapy could be effective, as it immediately targeted cancerous cells and did not cause any harm to others.

These tests were carried out on mice with ovarian cancer, but scientists now hope that clinical trials will be developed so the treatment can be used on human patients.
Read our feature on the evidence supporting the use of different vitamins and minerals in our next issue.

Stress

Yes, rage is bad for the heart

Many have suspected it all along. People who regularly lose their temper and have angry outbursts may need to do something to reduce their stress levels or risk having a heart attack, new research has suggested.

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health examined a range of studies from between January 1966 and June 2013 to analyse the links between anger and cardiovascular outcomes. They found that rage is often a precursor to a heart attack and may actually be the trigger. In the two hours immediately after losing their temper, a person’s likelihood of experiencing a myocardial infarction was raised almost fivefold and their risk of having a stroke went up more than threefold. Five angry episodes every day resulted in 158 more heart attacks per year per 100,000 individuals with an otherwise low cardiovascular risk.

Stethoscopes

Pulsing with bacteria

Yuck! A stethoscope
Yuck! A stethoscope

If you’re of a squeamish disposition, you may want to look away now. Research carried out by doctors at the University of Geneva discovered that stethoscopes can carry the same quantity of bacteria as a doctor’s hands, with only the tips of their fingers containing more. During their study, they measured bacteria levels on hands and instruments after 71 patients had been seen. On each occasion, it was found that there were similar levels of germs on the doctor and on the stethoscope. Most hospitals now operate a ‘bare below the elbows’ policy for staff, despite there being no evidence that rolling up sleeves reduces infection rates in patients at all. Perhaps they should be focusing on the stethoscopes instead.

Heart

Treatment is still too patchy

Not running like clockwork
Not running like clockwork

Despite the fact that more than 750,000 people in Britain are living with heart failure, treatment of patients with the condition is inadequate and there is uncertainty over who is responsible for their care. That is the conclusion of research by a team from Durham University and Darlington Memorial Hospital, funded by the charity Heart Research UK.
GPs, physicians, cardiologists and heart failure nurses were interviewed for the study, and some 500 clinicians were surveyed to compare the care that heart failure patients receive.

The research revealed there is confusion about how to diagnose different types of the disease, and that patients are not all receiving the same quality of care, with discrepancies in the services and tests that sufferers have access to. It seems that the healthcare system is not learning lessons from the past, with issues that were noted a decade ago still unresolved.

The study called for GPs and non-heart specialist doctors within hospitals to be better educated about the condition. Heart failure can happen for a number of reasons, such as high blood pressure or problems with the heart valve, but it is most commonly caused when the muscle surrounding the organ is damaged, often following a heart attack. Heart failure is a topic we’re planning to write more about a forthcoming issue, so keep an eye out.