It might seem an odd question to ask, but does health advice actually reduce the risk of people getting diseases? You’d expect the answer to be ‘of course it does’, but things may not be that simple.

Research studies on the subject tend to look at a single piece of advice at a time, checking whether it leads, for example, to fewer people getting a particular disease. When you look at it like that, the advice will often be shown to be effective. People who follow the advice – assuming it is good advice, of course – do better. But in everyday life, people are often expected to follow many different pieces of advice all at once, especially regarding lifestyle. Does that make a difference?

For example, the American Heart Association has been encouraging the US population not to smoke, to be physically active, to keep their blood pressure at a normal level, to eat a healthy diet and to ensure their weight and their glucose and cholesterol levels are kept within recommended limits.

Does anyone actually achieve all seven of these objectives? What effects has this advice had on disease and death rates in America?

To answer these questions, researchers looked at data for 45,000 people collected over 22 years. They came to the conclusion that the risk of cardiovascular disease was indeed lowered for people who achieved all seven objectives. Unfortunately, very few people actually met all seven; indeed, many people only managed three or four of them.

That raises questions about how best to present multiple strands of health advice.

Their study found something else that was interesting. Although the seven objectives were all about reducing the risk of heart disease, people who adopted all seven seem to have been protected from other diseases as well. There were fewer deaths from all causes in those people. This strengthens the view that many, seemingly unrelated diseases have common underlying factors related to our modern Western life-style.

Link to study

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life.

 

 

Which is better for stopping you getting heart disease: increasing your fitness or controlling your weight?

Researchers in America have been looking at this question. The work was based on 3,000 subjects assessed over 27 years for fatness and fitness. As expected, this showed that having increased fatness or decreased fitness contributed to high
blood pressure, raised blood fat levels and the precursors of diabetes.

The researchers looked to see if someone could counter the harmful effects from an increase in their body fat by getting fitter. Unfortunately not. They showed that increasing your fitness level helps, but it doesn’t fully overcome the adverse effect of putting on fat.

What about the other way around? Would losing fat make up for a lower level of fitness? Again they showed it helped but did not entirely make up for it.

It looks as if there is no easy way out. To give yourself the best chance of avoiding heart disease, you need both to control your level of body fat and to maintain your level of fitness.

Although this study looked specifically at the importance of these measures for heart disease prevention, the findings should also be applicable to diabetes, blood vessel disease, high blood pressure and, quite probably, cancer prevention.

Link to the fatness vs fitness study

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

 

 

An interesting new study* provides evidence that it’s better to get up and move around every so often rather than sit still for long periods.

If you work all day sat at a desk or workbench, or spend your evenings sitting in front of a TV, computer or book, this could be an important result.

The study looked at overweight people in the period following a meal. It showed that walking around for a couple of minutes every 20 minutes improved the level of glucose and insulin in their blood, compared with simply sitting still.

The importance of this is that high levels of glucose and insulin over many years can be associated with heart disease, cancer and other diseases. In the shorter term, they make it more likely you will put on body fat, and they make it
harder to lose weight. Ideally, you want them both to return to normal levels as soon as possible after a meal.

It would seem wise for everyone not to sit still for long periods, especially in the hours after a meal. Get up and move around every so often.

An earlier study** has already shown the long-term dangers of sitting still for long periods. It found that people who watch many hours of television a week – and so are sitting still for a long time – are more likely to suffer heart disease and diabetes. The recent study could go some way towards explaining this.

The study really brings home the importance of physical activity for your body. It shows that even occasional light activity such as a two-minute walk can have a positive effect on important processes going on inside you.

Greater amounts of physical activity bring greater benefits, of course. It has long been known that regular physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease, counter diabetes, reduce the risk of many common cancers and lose body
fat. And that’s just a few amongst many other benefits.

Inactive people could start with ordinary everyday things like walking that bit extra every day, taking the stairs rather than the lift, and asking whether you really need to use the car for short trips. From there, we recommend building
up your exercise to even higher levels – an hour a day in total if you can manage it. This should bring significant benefits to your long-term health.

But, as this study shows, every little helps – and more than you might think!

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

* The study about getting up and moving: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2012/02/22/dc11-1931

** The study about sitting in front of TV for long periods: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/305/23/2448.short

 

 

 

Two recent studies have provided evidence that some foods may be addictive – at least for some people.

Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout your life is important. People who have too much body fat are more likely to suffer heart disease, cancer and other diseases. But, despite knowing this, some people find it difficult to stop themselves eating lots of high-calorie foods such as ice cream and chocolate.

Often, this is described as a sort of “addiction”. Those people feel like they are hooked on food, as if it were a drug. And it has long been known that some foods – particularly ones that are sweet, fatty or salty – can produce a pleasurable response in the brain similar to that produced by recreational drugs.

But that doesn’t mean those foods actually are addictive. Addiction means more than getting pleasure from something and wanting to keep doing it. According to one of the standard books used by psychologists around the world (the “DSM-IV”), addiction to a substance needs to include at least three of the following:

  • large amounts of the substance consumed over a long period
  • unsuccessful efforts to cut down
  • continued use despite adverse consequences
  • neglecting aspects of life in pursuit of the substance
  • tolerance (i.e. over time you need more of the substance to get the same effect)
  • withdrawal.

Now there is some evidence that people can truly be addicted to food in this strict sense.

In America, researchers set up a social network website for overweight children and teenagers. To join the site, you had to give details of your age, height and weight. You could then interact with others through chat rooms, or express your feelings in forums.

The original aim of the website was to encourage and help young people to lose weight. The thought behind it was that teenagers may be more willing to express their true feelings online than face to face.

Researchers studied all the comments and looked for patterns. Much of what was written made hard reading, as the young people expressed their anxiety and deep struggles with food. (Many of the comments are quoted in the published paper.) It became clear that many of the young people met three or more of the criteria listed above, particularly the first four. This suggests they actually were addicted to food.

Now a completely different study suggests that repeatedly eating ice cream can result in “tolerance”, the fifth of the criteria.

Study participants were given milkshakes based on ice cream – making this one of the best ever studies to volunteer for! Their brains were scanned as they drank them to measure their pleasure response. As you’d expect, the ice cream milkshakes produced a highly pleasurable response in the brain. But what was interesting was that the response got less over time when the people had frequent ice cream milkshakes. The researchers described this change as “paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction”.

So, food may actually be addictive for some people. That raises all sorts of issues related to helping people lose weight, stopping young people from gaining unhealthy amounts of fat and even in how food is sold.

And when somebody is properly addicted to food, what do you do then? The approach with drug or alcohol addiction is to cut out the substance entirely. Clearly, that’s not something you can do with food.

It will be interesting to see where research such as this leads in the coming years.

 

Tim Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life.

 

The teen study: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10640266.2011.584803#tabModule

The ice cream study: http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2012/02/14/ajcn.111.027003.abstract

 

 

Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit helps ward off heart disease, stroke and cancer. Vegetables fill you up so you don’t eat as much fattening food. And if this isn’t enough to win you over to become an enthusiastic vegetable eater, they also make you look better!

According to a study by St Andrews University, eating two more portions of fruit or vegetables a day will make your skin noticeably more “golden” and healthy-looking within six weeks.

This works for Asian skin types as well as white European. The more fruit and vegetable you eat, the healthier your skin will look. It’s a safe way of getting that “tanned” look people seem to find attractive. Conversely, if you eat less fruit and vegetables, your skin will pale again.

The process works due to carotenoid pigments in fruit and vegetables that add colour to your skin. These same substances are also part of why vegetables and fruit protect you from major diseases, as they can act as antioxidants.

The St Andrews researchers are now looking at whether people in Scotland will eat more vegetables and fruit to get this improvement in their appearance. If so, it could prove an important way forward in encouraging people across the UK to eat their “five a day”. Apparently, three-quarters of us still aren’t eating this basic amount.

And if you are serious about your long-term health, as we hope you will be, we’d recommend eating even more vegetables and fruit than that. Eight to ten portions a day should provide significant extra protection against disease.

And you’ll look even better!

 

 

Unlike in Europe, most people around the world die as a result of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and HIV AIDS.

We Europeans are lucky: our climate doesn’t encourage some diseases that are common in the Tropics, and we have easy access to antibiotics that keep us safe. We live longer and tend to die of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease.

But we mustn’t get complacent. This may not last much longer.

As our climate warms up, some diseases are likely to become more common – and infectious diseases can spread rapidly with modern air travel. Alongside this, more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. That means we are
losing our main defence against them. The most famous antibiotic of all, penicillin, is now rarely used as many bacteria are no longer killed by it.

A recent review from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) comes as a timely warning about undue complacency. It covers infections carried by milk and cheese, such as tuberculosis. In a similar vein, the UK Food Safety Agency issued a reminder last year about the regulations for the sale of raw milk and the tuberculosis testing of cattle.

It’s easy to think of tuberculosis (TB) as a disease of the past, the sort of thing heroines of historic novels used to die from. In Europe, its spread was all but eradicated by the great 19th century microbiologist Louis Pasteur and his process of heating milk – ‘pasteurisation’ – which reduced the infectivity of the tuberculosis bugs.

In fact, TB is still one of the top killers in the world, although now more often in the form spread in air rather than milk. Worryingly, there are now strains of the disease that are resistant to many medicines.

In the West, the risk is still pretty small. According to the CDC, there were only 11,000 cases reported in America during 2010. But keeping the disease contained is going to take continued vigilance by farmers, dairy producers and health officials. We cannot afford for resistant TB to take hold.

There has always been controversy over pasteurisation. Many claim, not without some foundation, that it affects the flavour of milk and cheese. Most cheese is made from pasteurised milk, but some cheeses – often made by smaller specialist producers – are made from raw milk. The risk of this to most adults is very small.

But the pasteurisation process kills a host of diseases other than TB, such as brucellosis and streptococcal infections. From time to time there are outbreaks of a wide variety of milk-borne infections. The CDC report showed that some of these are increasing. In addition, poor storage and handling of cheese, for example in shops, can also result in contamination after the cheese has been produced. Some soft cheeses in particular provide a highly favourable medium for micro-organisms to grow.

Frail elderly people and young children are particularly vulnerable to infections. The advice in the UK and USA is therefore for these groups and pregnant women to avoid raw milk and unpasteurised cheese.

(Our book also offers advice on avoiding infections in food more generally.)

Milk and cheese are still very much worth including in your diet (if you are notlactose intolerant, of course). They are a great source of calcium needed for bone health. More recently it has been suggested that dairy products might
offer some protection against diabetes.

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

 

FSA highlights raw milk rules: www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2011/mar/rawmilk

Center for Disease Control: http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1803.111370

 

Here’s another widely held prejudice about old age challenged by the evidence.

It’s commonly believed that people sleep less soundly as they grown older. But it seems that this isn’t true, at least for healthy people. This month, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania* showed it was the middle-aged who had the greatest sleep problems – with older people sleeping more soundly.

The results are based on what healthy participants – 155,857 men and women – said about themselves. There’s a need for confirmation by other types of studies, but the findings are noteworthy.

It’s good for preconceptions about fit elderly people to be challenged. One comment I hear quite often is “Who wants to live to an old age anyway?” Indeed, part of what we have tried to do in our book is address the widespread negative view of what old age is like.

If you manage to avoid the main diseases – which is what our book is all about – then your later years can be full of health and vitality.

And sound sleep!

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110 : Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

 

*Grandner et al, Age and Sleep Disturbances Among American Men And Women: Data From the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System  http://dx.doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1704

http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=28450

 

Charles Booth, manufacturer and philanthropist, lived at the end of the 19th century. He investigated poverty in London, mapping out streets of overcrowding and poverty, as well as areas that were wealthier.

What he found was that the poorest were the sickest.

His maps still exist and the streets are still there. Recently, researchers carried out a similar study in the same areas. This time around they focused on a serious long-term disease: Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is associated with a higher risk of heart disease; and if untreated it can lead to damage of the kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. Over recent decades it has become increasingly common. The people most at risk are those with a large waistline who do little physical activity. The risk is also higher in Asian people.

The study showed that the same areas mapped by Booth still have the least wealth and the highest levels of the disease.

The reasons for the similarity may be complex, bearing in mind the changes in the population in those streets over the past 100 years.

But it is a sobering thought that all this time later we may not be that much further forward.

(Link to BBC article about the study)

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life.

 

© 2012 How to Live to 110 Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha