Feb 132015

Women who take 30 minutes of gentle exercise per day are ten per cent less likely to develop breast cancer but once they stop their risk increases quickly, researchers have found.


A study of nearly 60,000 women found those who had exercised for the equivalent of four hours a week were 10 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who were sedentary.

However the effect was only found in women who exercised consistently over four years.

Women who had been active and had stopped more than five years ago, were more than 16 per cent likely to develop cancer than those who continued.

The findings were not affected by the women’s weight or waist circumference showing that the benefits came from being active, not from losing weight.

There are around 41,000 women and 500 men in Britain who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually.

The latest research is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Lead author Dr Agnès Fournier, a researcher in the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France, said: “Physical activity is thought to decrease a woman’s risk for breast cancer after menopause.

“However, it was not clear how rapidly this association is observed after regular physical activity is begun or for how long it lasts after regular exercise stops.

“We found that recreational physical activity, even of modest intensity, seemed to have a rapid impact on breast cancer risk.

“However, the decreased breast cancer risk we found associated with physical activity was attenuated when activity stopped.

“As a result, postmenopausal women who exercise should be encouraged to continue and those who do not exercise should consider starting because their risk of breast cancer may decrease rapidly.”

The study analysed data from questionnaires completed every two years by 59,300 women who had gone through the menopause.

The activity was measured in metabolic equivalent hours, which captures both the intensity and duration in one number, with 12 METs the equivalent of four hours of walking or two hours of sport such as cycling per week.

The effect peaked at 12 METs and exercising for longer or more intensely did not cut the risk of cancer further.

Women who exercised at this level for four years or more were 10 per cent less likely to develop cancer over the eight year study period than those who did little or no exercise.

“So, our study shows that it is not necessary to engage in vigorous or very frequent activities; even walking 30 minutes per day is beneficial, ” Dr Fournier said.

During the study period 2,155 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Women who had exercised at this level and stopped more than five years previously had the same risk of cancer as women who had never exercised.

Sally Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Breakthrough Breast Cancer advises that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day (or 3.5 hours a week) can reduce breast cancer risk by at least 20 per cent.

“Being physically activity doesn’t need to be running or going to the gym – it can be anything from playing actively with your children, walking or gardening – anything that raises your pulse reduces your risk.

“Breast cancer is most common in postmenopausal women so it is great to see evidence like this which supports the message that physical activity in this age group is beneficial.

“In order to help women plan their physical activity, Breakthrough has launched an interactive online resource called BRISK, which includes a weekly tracker tool and provides information about the facts and figures behind physical activity.”

Feb 132015

Paracetamol does not help to relieve lower back pain despite it being a commonly prescribed treatment, according to new research.

A study from Australia, published in the Lancet, has found that the painkiller is no better than a placebo at aiding recovery from or reducing the pain linked to an ailment that afflicts 26 million Britons.

The associate professor Christine Lin, of the Oxford-based George Institute for Global Health, the senior author of the paper, said people with back pain would be better off being as active as possible, avoiding bed rest, using heat wraps or heat packs and considering spinal manipulation.

In the study 1,652 adults in Sydney with acute lower back pain and an average age of 45 were given paracetamol three times a day for four weeks, or when they needed it, or a placebo.

The average length of time it took them to recover was almost the same for all three groups: 17 days for the two groups taking paracetamol and 16 days for those on the placebo. The painkillers yielded no benefit in terms of relieving short-term pain or disability or improving sleep or quality of life.

The findings should make medical bodies think again about their “almost universal endorsement of paracetamol as the first-choice painkiller for low back pain”, the authors said.

Dr Tim Salomons, a pain expert at Reading University who recently showed that cognitive behavioural therapy can help treat chronic pain, said: “One of society’s most trusted pain relief drugs has been shown to not improve recovery times in lower back pain, an extremely prevalent disorder. If the drug is not doing what it is being prescribed to do, pain patients might be better off without.”

Feb 132015

Women with anxiety disorders may be more likely to have babies who cry excessively, suggests a new German study.

Researchers already know that the children of women with anxiety disorders are more prone to develop anxiety themselves, according to Johanna Petzoldt. She led the current study at the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at Dresden University of Technology.

“We found a relationship between maternal anxiety disorders prior to, during and after pregnancy, thus, mothers with prior anxiety disorders might represent a specific risk group for having an infant that will cry excessively,” Petzoldt told Reuters Health in an email.

“Early identification and monitoring of mothers with prior anxiety disorders could be an opportunity to support mother-infant dyads at risk,” she said.

For the new study, Petzoldt and her colleagues enrolled 286 women who were early in their pregnancies.

The women were 28 years old, on average. About 63 percent of them were unmarried and 59 percent were pregnant for the first time.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers asked the women about any depressive or anxiety symptoms they had and when those symptoms started. Then they checked in with the women every other month until their babies were four months old and again one year later.

In the interviews that took place after the babies were born, 29 mothers reported that their infants cried excessively. Excessive crying was defined as crying that lasts three or more hours per day, at least three days per week for a duration of three weeks or longer.

The researchers found that women who had an anxiety disorder before becoming pregnant were more likely to have a baby that cried excessively compared with women without an anxiety disorder.

That was also the case when including women who developed an anxiety disorder during pregnancy or after giving birth, according to results published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Unlike in previous studies, the researchers did not find a clear association between maternal depression and excessive crying among infants.

The study doesn’t prove women’s anxiety caused their babies to cry more – only that there was a link between the two. And the reasons for the association still aren’t clear.

More research is needed to learn more about maternal anxiety and depression and infant crying, Petzoldt said.

“Women can have anxiety or depression during pregnancy and it can have negative consequences for the baby,” psychiatrist Dr. Ariela Frieder told Reuters Health.

“It’s very important to take an active stance to treat it. That can change the outcome and can really help the baby to do better,” she said.

Frieder, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, wasn’t involved in the new study.

She said women who are pregnant and believe they may have anxiety should tell their OB/GYN and the doctor can refer them to the appropriate mental health professionals. Talk therapy could be one option for treatment.

In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Harriet Hiscock said there is no doubt that a mother’s mood can impact her baby’s behavior and vice versa.

Hiscock, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, agreed that more research is needed to confirm the current findings.

But in the meantime, she wrote that doctors can talk to women about anxiety and its perceived impact on their parenting style and on their infant, as long as professional support is available if needed.

“This needs to be done sensitively as the last thing we need to do is add to a mother’s ‘day of worry’ by blaming her for her infant’s crying,” Hiscock wrote.

Feb 132015

Niacin, a commonly used cholesterol treatment, doesn’t reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke in people with hardened arteries. What’s more, the drug appears to have dangerous side effects, including a potential increased risk of death, according to new research.

A large-scale clinical trial found that although niacin slightly improved levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, it didn’t seem to benefit cardiovascular health, reports the study in the July 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

At the same time, niacin increased the risk of serious side effects in patients “enough to get people into hospital, typically,” said senior study author Jane Armitage, a professor of clinical trials and epidemiology at the University of Oxford in England.

The author of an accompanying journal editorial, Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, added that “people taking niacin need to have a conversation with their doctor sooner rather than later to see whether it is appropriate to continue taking it and whether there are reasonable alternatives.” Lloyd-Jones is chief of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Side effects included a 55 percent increase in loss of blood sugar control among diabetics, and a 32 percent increase in new diabetes diagnoses, researchers found. Patients also suffered excess bleeding and infections, diarrhea, gout, skin-related effects and liver problems.

“I don’t think we’re now in any doubt these are problems associated with niacin use,” Armitage said. “This is a drug that has been available for 50 years for treating cholesterol, and it has taken a large study like this to reveal the impact of the side effects.”

The clinical trial also associated niacin with a 9 percent increase in death among patients, which was not a statistically significant finding but nevertheless raises concern, according to Lloyd-Jones.

“That, for me, is the deal breaker,” he said. “This trial suggests that for every 200 patients we put on niacin, there may be one excess death related to the drug. That suggests to me this is a drug that should not be in general use for most patients.”

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has been in widespread use for decades. U.S. doctors hand out nearly 700,000 prescriptions for niacin each month, at an annual cost of more than $880 million, according to Lloyd-Jones. He added that doctors use the medications known as statins more often to treat cholesterol issues, however.

To test the effectiveness of niacin, Oxford researchers led a clinical trial involving heart patients in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and China. About 26,000 were included in the final analysis because about one-third of those initially enrolled in the study dropped out due to side effects of the medication, according to the study.

Half the patients received treatment with an extended-release pill containing niacin and laropiprant, while the other half received an inactive placebo. Laropiprant is a medication that treats flushed skin, which is a common side effect of niacin.

This drug combination had already been approved in Europe and was awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Armitage said. As a result of this trial, the drug has been pulled from shelves in Europe and its manufacturer, Merck, has suspended its development for the United States.

The new study confirms results of an earlier clinical trial of niacin in the United States that was stopped prematurely after three years due to a lack of benefit for patients. Some of the same side effects were noted in that trial, including increased risk of gastrointestinal disorders and infections, authors of the U.S. trial noted in an accompanying letter in the same issue of the journal.

Doctors have used niacin to treat high cholesterol because it increases the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, but the large-scale Oxford trial revealed side effects that smaller studies either missed or underreported, Lloyd-Jones said.

“It raises the question whether we really understand the biology of HDL cholesterol,” he said. “It may be much more complex than we have given it credit for, and we may be seeing these side effects because we are manipulating this particle.”

Heart patients should not be affected by discontinuation of niacin use, mainly because statin drugs are incredibly effective in reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, Armitage and Lloyd-Jones said.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that there may not be a magic HDL-raising bullet out there,” Lloyd-Jones said. “We should continue to do what we can do well, and continue to lower bad cholesterol using statins.”

Feb 132015

A new BMJ study finds that even among people who drink only light to moderate amounts of alcohol, reducing consumption can improve heart health, reduce body mass index, and bring down blood pressure.

The large multi-center international study, which was co-led by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, calls into question previous research that suggests light to moderate drinking may be good for the heart.

The researchers found that people with a particular gene consumed 17% less alcohol per week, were less likely to binge drink, and were more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether, than non-carriers.

The study defines light to moderate drinking as consuming 0.6 to 0.8 fluid ounces of alcohol a day, or 17 to 23 ml, which is roughly what a 175 ml glass of wine contains.

The 155 researchers – from the UK, continental Europe, North America, and Australia – pooled and analyzed data about links between drinking habits and heart health from 56 epidemiological studies covering more than 260,000 people of European descent.

They found that people with a particular gene consumed 17% less alcohol per week, were less likely to binge drink, and were more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether, than non- carriers.

These lower alcohol consumers typically had a 10% average reduced risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure and a lower body mass index (BMI).

The researchers conclude that reducing alcohol consumption across all levels of consumption – even light to moderate drinking – is beneficial for heart health.

Co-lead author Michael Holmes, a research assistant professor in Perelman School of Medicine’s department of Transplant Surgery, says, “Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health.”

He explains how for some time, observational studies have suggested only heavy drinking is bad for the heart, and that light drinking might even provide some benefit, and this has led some people to believe moderate consumption is good for their health, even lowering their risk of heart disease.
Even for light-to-moderate drinkers, reduced consumption may improve heart health

“However, what we’re seeing with this new study, which uses an investigative approach similar to a randomized clinical trial, is that reduced consumption of alcohol, even for light-to-moderate drinkers, may lead to improved cardiovascular health,” says Prof. Holmes.

The focus of the study was investigating the heart health of people who carry a particular version of the gene “alcohol dehydrogenase 1B” which codes for a protein that helps to break down alcohol more quickly than in non-carriers.

The rapid breakdown causes nausea, facial flushing, and other symptoms, and is linked to lower levels of alcohol consumption over time.

The team used the gene as an indicator of lower alcohol consumption, and from there found the links between lower consumption and improved heart health.

Funds from the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council in the UK financed the study.

In April 2014, Medical News Today learned how neuroscientists at the University of Utah are investigating a region of the brain that regulates how sensitive we are to the negative effects of alcohol. Inactivating this region of the brain in rats led them to drink more alcohol, at a faster pace.