Diversity blooms


The more genetically diverse parents are, the taller and smarter their kids tend to be, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed health and genetic information from 102 studies that included 3,54,224 people living in both urban and rural areas across the globe.

If people had inherited identical copies of genes from their parents, it meant that their ancestors were related. But when there are fewer identical genes, it suggests greater genetic diversity in their heritage and it is unlikely that two sides of their family are distantly related.

The study focused on 16 health-related traits. Genetic diversity influenced four specific traits in kids. Kids born to parents who had greater genetic diversity had increased height, better cognitive skills, higher levels of education and better lung function.

On the other hand, genetic diversity had no impact on risk factors that arise in adulthood such as high blood pressure or cholesterol levels that contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Close family ties were thought to raise a person’s risk of complex diseases, but the study did not find any such connection.

“These risk factors mostly have their effect post-reproductively, and so would not be subject to so much natural selection," said the lead author.

The findings suggest that evolution favours height and sharper thinking skills but has no impact on factors that lead to serious illnesses later in life.

Dual benefit

Diabetes drug liraglutide has proven to be effective in helping overweight or obese people lose considerable weight.


Originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes, liraglutide in higher doses was found to promote weight loss. It was approved for weight loss by the FDA in 2014.

For the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers randomly assigned 3,731 obese people to either daily shots of three milligrams of liraglutide or a placebo. The participants were also advised on dietary changes and exercise regimen.

At 56 weeks, those on liraglutide lost an average of 18.5lbs (8.4kg) compared to 6.4lbs (2.8kg) for those on the placebo.

Sixty-three per cent of those who received liraglutide lost more than 5 per cent of their body weight compared to 27 per cent of those who received a placebo; 33 per cent lost more than 10 per cent of their body weight with liraglutide  versus only 10 per cent with the placebo.

Liraglutide works by suppressing hunger. The most common side effects were nausea and diarrhoea. Other serious events were also reported.

Liraglutide “can lower weight, improve cardiovascular risk factors and improve quality of life. It can also reduce the progression to type 2 diabetes from prediabetes,” the lead researcher noted. The study was funded by Novo Nordisk, the drug's manufacturer.

Did You Know
The number of drinks a person consumes increases with the number of friends in the drinking group.

Adding colour

Yale University researchers have successfully used a drug approved for rheumatoid arthritis to treat a woman with vitiligo where skin loses its pigmentation or colour and white patches appear on the body.


Current treatments include steroid creams and light therapy, but are not totally effective.

Recent research had shown that tofacitinib belonging to a class of drugs known as janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, was also effective in treating hair loss caused by alopecia areata.

Since both vitiligo and alopecia areata have a common pathogenesis, the study team decided to try tofacitinib to treat vitiligo.

Tofacitinib was tried on a 53-year-old woman with prominent white patches on her face and hands, besides other parts of the body.

The patient received 5mg of tofacitinib orally every other day, which was increased to 5mg a day after three weeks. This was half the approved dosage for rheumatoid arthritis, which is 5mg twice daily.

Within two months of treatment, the patient experienced partial repigmentation on her face, arms and hands. After five months, the white spots on her face and hands were almost gone. Only a few spots remained on other parts of her body.

The patient did not suffer any adverse side effects.

“It’s a first, and it could revolutionise treatment of an awful disease. This may be a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition,” the lead researcher noted.

The team hopes to replicate their findings in a clinical trial using tofacitinib, or a similar medicine, ruxolitinib, for the treatment of vitiligo.

The case study was published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Modifiable risk

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Can it be prevented?


According to new research published by Dr Shivani Patel of Emory University in the Annals of Internal Medicine, nearly half of all cardiovascular deaths can be attributed to five modifiable risk factors: smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Risk factors such as family history, ethnicity, age and genes cannot be modified.

An analysis of data from more than 5 lakh adults aged 45 to 79 between 2009 and 2010 found that 4 out of 5 had at least one modifiable risk factor. Eliminating all five of these risk factors could have prevented 54 per cent of heart disease deaths in men and 50 per cent of heart disease deaths in women.

High blood pressure, smoking and diabetes accounted for the most preventable deaths.

The study underscores the importance of lifestyle modification and prevention in tackling the burden of heart disease. Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are some of the things you can do to protect your heart.

Doctors should not just treat risk factors and heart disease, but intervene early on to prevent the risk factors.

Did You Know
62 per cent of kids whose parents sleepwalk will develop the condition compared to 47 per cent if only one parent sleepwalks and 23 per cent if both parents don't sleepwalk.
JAMA Pediatrics

Drink only when thirsty

Can drinking too much water harm you? According to new recommendations published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine "aggressive drinking to prevent dehydration is unnecessary and carries with it greater risk". You should drink only when you are thirsty.


Drinking too much water can be dangerous and cause exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). Excessive fluid consumption can weaken the kidneys' ability to excrete the excess water, and sodium in your body becomes diluted. Cells start to absorb the water leading to swelling even in the brain which can be life threatening and lead to seizures, coma and death. Other symptoms are dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion and delirium.

At least 14 athletes are believed to have died from EAH. Athletes are often wrongly advised to drink a preset amount.

"Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration."

EAH can be treated with a saline solution that is 3 per cent sodium which is three times more concentrated than normal saline solution.

Freeze and use

In a medical breakthrough, a 27-year-old woman gave birth to a healthy baby after ovarian tissue that had been surgically removed and frozen when she was a child was transplanted.

Although there have been successful pregnancies after ovarian tissue from adults had been transplanted, this is the first instance where tissue taken before puberty has yielded a positive outcome.

The woman, who was born in the Republic of Congo, was diagnosed with sickle-cell anaemia at age 5. She emigrated to Belgium when she was 11 and needed a bone marrow transplant to treat her disease. Since she needed chemotherapy—which could permanently destroy her ovaries—before the transplant, the doctors removed her right ovary when she was 13 and froze tissue fragments.

Following intense treatment, her left ovary failed at age 15 and the doctors administered hormone replacement therapy to induce menstruation.

Ten years later, the doctors thawed some of the frozen ovarian tissue and transplanted it into her body. The transplanted tissue responded to her hormones and began growing follicles containing mature eggs. Five months later, the patient started menstruating on her own.

Two years after the transplantation, at age 27, the patient became pregnant naturally and delivered a healthy boy in November last year. The patient's ovary continues to function normally and she could have more babies in the future.

"This is an important breakthrough in the field because children are the patients who are most likely to benefit from the procedure in the future. When they are diagnosed with diseases that require treatment that can destroy ovarian function, freezing ovarian tissue is the only available option for preserving their fertility," said the lead researcher.

The growing DBS stable

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved an implantable deep brain stimulation device that can help patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and essential tremor, a neurological disorder that causes shaking especially in the hands.

The Brio Neurostimulation System can ease symptoms such as walking difficulties, balance problems and tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease.


The device consists of a small, rechargeable battery-powered pulse generator implanted under the skin of the upper chest and wire leads attached to electrodes placed at specific brain locations. The electrical pulse generator continuously delivers low-intensity electrical pulses to specific areas in the brain.

The approval follows two clinical trials, one involving 136 patients with Parkinson's disease and another involving 127 patients with essential tremor.

The implant was used in addition to medication for Parkinson's patients. Most of the patients with essential tremor were able to control their symptoms without added medications.

Patients in both trials showed considerable improvement when the device was turned on compared to when it was turned off.

Adverse events included infection and device dislocation as well as intracranial bleeding which can lead to stroke, paralysis or death.

Did You Know
Squatting for long in skinny jeans can cause muscle and nerve damage, making it difficult to walk.
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry

Smell and tell

A simple sniff test can be used as an essential tool to diagnose children with autism spectrum disorders, according to an Israeli study published in the journal Current Biology.


Normally, people adjust the airflow in their nose depending on how pleasant or unpleasant the smell is—longer sniffs to take in the pleasant aroma of a bouquet of roses and shorter sniffs to restrict the stench of a rotten fish.

But children with autism are unable to make such adjustments and they breathe the same way regardless of how good or bad the smell is.

Researchers measured the sniff responses to pleasant and unpleasant odours of 18 children with autism and 18 children without the disorder. The average age of the children was seven.

While children without autism adjusted their sniff response within 305 milliseconds of smelling an odour, children with autism did not make any changes.

Based on the kids' sniff response time the researchers were able to correctly identify the children as having autism or not with 81 per cent accuracy. Furthermore, the more abnormal the sniff response among autistic children, the more severe their social impairment.

"The difference in sniffing pattern between the typically developing children and children with autism was simply overwhelming. We can identify autism and its severity with meaningful accuracy within less than 10 minutes using a test that is completely non-verbal. This raises the hope that these findings could form the base for development of a diagnostic tool that can be applied very early on, such as in toddlers only a few months old. Such early diagnosis would allow for more effective intervention," the study author commented.

What's your ubble age?

Swedish researchers have developed an online tool that calculates your risk of dying in five years.


The researchers analysed health, lifestyle and demographic data from 5 lakh British residents aged 40 to 70. Using a statistical survival model they assessed how 655 specific measurements could predict mortality.

They then created a questionnaire that can analyse your risk of dying in the next five years. The survey includes questions about things like your walking speed and smoking status.

According to the calculator the risk of dying in the next five years is 3.7 times higher for people with a low walking speed than those with a normal pace. The variables that predict death are different for men and women. Smoking is the strongest predictor of death within five years for people who are otherwise healthy.

The survey can be accessed at www.ubble.co.uk. Based on the survey, the website also gives users their "ubble age". If their ubble age is lower than their actual age, the person’s risk of dying is lower than the average for people of the same sex and age. But if your ubble age is higher than your actual age, it is a warning to reassess your health and lifestyle and make necessary changes.

‘We show that, using a few simple questions, one can predict the risk of dying within five years with greater reliability than in any other way we know today. We think our study and the associated risk calculator will become an important tool for a wide range of researchers, but also for doctors, decision-makers and the public,” the lead researcher noted.

Pop with care

Certain heartburn drugs can increase the risk of heart attack.

Stanford researchers report in the journal PLOS One that people who use proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to fight acid reflux for a long period of time may have an increased risk of heart attack.

PPIs are already known to interact with the clot-preventing drug clopidogrel, lowering its effectiveness. PPIs have also been linked to bone-density loss and fractures.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of nearly 3 million patients who took different heartburn drugs and compared subsequent heart-attack incidences.

People who used PPIs were 16 to 21 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack than people who didn’t use them. They were also twice as likely to die of a cardiovascular event. The elevated heart risk remained regardless of clopidogrel use and was also seen in otherwise-healthy PPI users below age 45.

Those who used a different class of heartburn medication called H2 blockers did not have an increased heart attack risk.

PPIs can adversely affect the lining of the blood vessels. They reduce the amount of nitric oxide in blood vessel walls, which is essential for maintaining heart health. Any reduction in nitric oxide can increase heart attack risk.

Patients with heart disease who need to take heartburn drugs for a long period should talk to their doctors about switching to an H2 blocker.

Globally PPIs account for over $13 billion in annual sales.

Did You Know
People with light coloured eyes—especially those with the envious blue eyes—are more likely to be alcoholics than dark-eyed people. The genes that determine eye colour line up along the same chromosome as the genes related to alcohol dependence.
American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics (Part B)

Night owls, be warned

Night owls are more likely to develop diabetes and other health problems than early risers even if they get the same amount of sleep, according to a South Korean study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.


The study examined the sleep habits and health status of 1,620 people aged 47 to 59, who provided information about their sleep patterns and lifestyle habits such as exercise and underwent tests to assess their health.

Ninety-five of the study participants were night owls, 480 were early risers and the remainder fell somewhere in between.

Even though they tended to be younger, night owls had higher levels of body fat and triglycerides (fats in the blood) and were also more likely to have sarcopenia, a condition in which the body gradually loses muscle mass.

While men who were night owls were more likely to have diabetes, women tended to have more belly fat and a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that increase the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"Regardless of lifestyle, people who stayed up late faced a higher risk of developing health problems like diabetes or reduced muscle mass than those who were early risers. This could be caused by night owls' tendency to have poorer sleep quality and to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, late-night eating and a sedentary lifestyle," the study author noted.

This browser settings will not support to add bookmarks programmatically. Please press Ctrl+D or change settings to bookmark this page.
The Week

Get the full story

You can subscribe the week e- magazine to read the entire article. Available package details are listed.

Topics : #health

Related Reading

    Show more