Loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of premature death and may be a greater public health concern than obesity, according to a US study presented at the American Psychological Association meeting.
The conclusion was based on data from two meta-analyses. The first one that included 148 studies involving more than 3,00,000 participants found that people who are socially connected have a 50 per cent reduced risk of early death compared to those who are socially isolated.
The second study included 70 studies involving more than 3.4 million people from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Social isolation, loneliness and living alone were all associated with premature death. In fact, the risk was equal to or greater than premature death risk associated with other well-known risk factors such as obesity.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival. There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators. With an increasing ageing population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic’. The challenge we face now is what can be done about it,” the study author commented.
Male fertility declining
Sperm counts among men in western countries have dropped by more than half over the past 40 years, according to a systematic review of male fertility trends published in the journal Human Reproduction Update.
An analysis of 185 sperm count studies, including 42,935 men, from 1973 to 2011 showed a 52.4 per cent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 per cent decline in total sperm count among men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
No significant decline was seen among men in South America, Asia and Africa. However, only very few studies have been conducted in these regions.
The findings are significant because it raises concerns about not just male reproductive health, but also the general health of men. Poor semen quality is already associated with higher risk of hospitalisation and death. Men with poor semen quality may “die younger and they have more disease, particularly cardiovascular disease and cancer”.
"It really makes the implications of our study much greater. We're not talking about making babies. We're also talking about survival and health," a senior researcher of the study noted.
Declining sperm count can be attributed to a number of environmental and lifestyle factors, including smoking, chemical and pesticide exposure, stress, using laptops on the lap, diet and obesity.
DID YOU KNOW
The US Food and Drug Administration is proposing to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them less addictive.
Smart underwear for back pain
Here’s a smart solution for back pain—a smart underwear. Engineers at Vanderbilt University in the US have developed a smart undergarment that combines wearable technology and biomechanics to reduce pressure on the back and prevent low back pain.
Low back pain is a common problem affecting millions of people. In fact, about 60-80 per cent of people will suffer low back pain at some point in their lives.
The garment consists of two fabric sections that are worn on the chest and legs, connected by straps across the middle back, with natural rubber pieces at the lower back. The garment is not bulky and is made of light materials that are comfortable. Users can turn the device on or off as needed by simply tapping the shirt twice. The device can also be controlled by an app.
The device was tested on eight volunteers who lifted 25-pound and 55-pound weights while holding their position at 30, 60 and 90 degrees. The device reduced activity in the lower back extensor muscles by 15-45 per cent. When the garment is activated some of the pressure travels through the elastic bands instead of back muscles.
The garment is not meant to be a treatment, but as a prevention.
“The next idea is to find out if we can use sensors embedded in the clothing to monitor stress on the low back, and if it gets too high, we can automatically engage this smart clothing,” the lead researcher added.
New kitchen sponge every week
How often do you replace your kitchen sponge?
According to a German study published in Scientific Reports, kitchen sponges are incubators of various microorganisms. It is perhaps the most germ-laden object in your house.
The researchers analysed 14 used kitchen sponges under the microscope. The sponges harboured 362 different types of bacteria.
“What surprised us was that five of the ten which we most commonly found, belong to the so-called risk group 2, which means they are potential pathogens,” explained the lead researcher. People with a weak immune system such as patients and the elderly can be vulnerable to infections when exposed to these bacteria.
According to the researchers, people who try to sanitise the sponges by microwaving or boiling are actually doing more harm. Sponges that are regularly cleaned had significantly more potentially pathogenic bacteria that may be resistant and then rapidly multiply.
With its large surface area with multiple pores and high levels of moisture and food residue and dirt, kitchen sponges are the ideal breeding ground for microorganisms. “Sometimes the bacteria achieved a concentration of more than 5 times 1010 cells per cubic centimetre. Those are concentrations which one would normally only find in fecal samples.”
The recommendation: replace your kitchen sponges regularly, about once a week.
Statin use after stroke
Stroke patients who stop taking cholesterol-lowering statins are more likely to suffer another stroke, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study was based on 45,151 ischemic stroke survivors in Taiwan who were prescribed a statin within 90 days of leaving the hospital.
Ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, is caused when blood flow to the brain is blocked by plaque build-up in the arteries. Taking statins can reduce the risk of a recurrent stroke by preventing arteries from clogging.
Compared to patients who continued taking statins, those who stopped three to six months after their first stroke had a 42 per cent greater risk of suffering another stroke within a year, and a 37 per cent increased risk of death from any cause. There was no additional risk of another stroke or death among patients who continued taking statins at a decreased dose.
"Based on our findings of this large group of patients in the 'real world', we believe that statins should be a lifelong therapy for ischemic stroke patients if a statin is needed to lower the patient's cholesterol. Shifting to low-intensity statin therapy could be an alternative for stroke patients not able to tolerate moderate or high-intensity statin therapy in the years following a stroke," the lead study author said.
Gum disease and cancer in women
Postmenopausal women with gum disease also have a higher risk of several types of cancer, according to a US study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is caused by infection and inflammations of the gums.
The researchers asked 65,869 postmenopausal women, average age 68, about their history of gum disease. During an average follow-up of more than eight years, 7,149 cases of cancer were identified.
Women who reported having periodontal disease had a 14 per cent greater risk of developing any type of cancer. The risk was greatest for oesophageal cancer, which was more than three times more likely in women who had gum disease than those who did not.
Gum disease was also associated with a higher risk of lung cancer (31 per cent), gall bladder cancer (73 per cent), melanoma (23 per cent) and breast cancer (13 per cent).
Current and former smokers with gum disease had nearly 20 per cent greater risk of developing cancer.
Breast, lung and gall bladder cancers were higher in smokers with periodontal disease.
While the exact reason for the association is not clear, the researchers speculate that the bacteria may travel from the oral cavity to other parts of the body “through ingestion or inhalation, as well as bacteria entering the bloodstream through oral tissues” and promote inflammation and increase the risk of cancer.
"These findings may provide a new target to test an intervention for cancer prevention—oral hygiene and periodontal disease treatment and prevention," the lead researcher suggested.
Sleepless and overweight
Getting a good night’s sleep may help you stay trim.
According to a British study published in PLoS One, people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, have larger waistlines, and have poorer metabolic health.
For the study, 1,615 adults answered questions about their sleep patterns and diet. They also had their weight, waist circumference, and blood pressure recorded. Blood samples were also provided.
People who were sleeping about six hours a night, on average, had a waist measurement 3cm more than those who were getting nine hours of sleep a night. People who slept less also had a higher body mass index. Each additional hour of sleep was associated with a 0.9cm reduction in waist size and 0.46 decrease in BMI.
Shorter sleepers also had lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Higher HDL levels are thought to protect against cardiovascular diseases.
"Because we found that adults who reported sleeping less than their peers were more likely to be overweight or obese, our findings highlight the importance of getting enough sleep. How much sleep we need differs between people, but the current consensus is that seven to nine hours is best for most adults," the study author suggested.
More protein for elders
People who are above age 60 should eat protein at all three daily meals to help maintain physical strength as they age. Declining muscle strength associated with ageing can often lead to falls and loss of independence.
To find out whether protein consumption spread out throughout the day can slow down age-related muscle decline, Canadian researchers tracked 827 men and 914 women, aged 67 to 84, for three years.
Overall, physical performance worsened in both men and women during the study period, with muscle strength fading more significantly than mobility. But those who consumed protein more evenly throughout the day retained greater muscle strength than those who consumed protein mostly at dinner.
“The important point is to create three meal occasions with sufficient protein to stimulate muscle building and greater strength, instead of just one."
According to current recommendations, adults should consume a minimum of 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
For those above age 50, the US Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines recommend 5 to 7 ounces of protein food daily.
In general, one ounce of meat, chicken or fish, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, one-quarter cup of cooked beans or one-half ounce of nuts or seeds are considered as an ounce of protein, according to the USDA.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Did You Know
Blowing birthday candles increases the amount of bacteria on the cake by 1,400 per cent.
Journal of Food Research
Avoid sugary drinks with meals
Next time you order a burger, hold off the soda. According to a study published in BMC Nutrition, pairing sugary drinks with a high-protein meal could cause your body to store more fat and lead to weight gain.
The study was based on 27 healthy-weight adults. Over two 24-hour periods they were given protein-based meals with sugary drinks and with non-sugary drinks.
The sugar-sweetened drinks slowed down the fat oxidation process, meaning it took longer for the body to start breaking down fat molecules.
"We found that about a third of the additional calories provided by the sugar-sweetened drinks were not expended, fat metabolism was reduced, and it took less energy to metabolise the meals. This decreased metabolic efficiency may 'prime' the body to store more fat,” the lead author noted.
"Our findings suggest that having a sugar-sweetened drink with a meal impacts both sides of the energy balance equation. On the intake side, the additional energy from the drink did not make people feel more sated. On the expenditure side, the additional calories were not expended and fat oxidation was reduced.”
Embryo gene edited to prevent disease
For the first time, scientists have successfully genetically edited a human embryo to remove a mutation that causes a deadly heart condition. This could potentially be a game changer in the prevention of thousands of inherited diseases affecting millions of people worldwide.
Using the technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, the researchers corrected a mutated MYBPC3 gene that can cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. People with the inherited heart condition have abnormally thick heart muscles and are at an increased risk of heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
The researchers snipped the mutated version of the gene inside 18 embryos that were created in a lab using sperm from men who carried the mutated MYBPC3 gene and eggs retrieved from healthy women. Of the resulting embryos, 72 per cent were free from disease-causing mutations.
The embryos were allowed to develop for only a few days. But if they were implanted in a woman and allowed to gestate, the baby would have been born without hereditary cardiomyopathy.
"Every generation on would carry this repair because we've removed the disease-causing gene variant from that family's lineage. By using this technique, it's possible to reduce the burden of this heritable disease on the family and eventually the human population."
"This embryo gene correction method, if proven safe, can potentially be used to prevent transmission of genetic disease to future generations." The findings were published in the journal Nature.
Did You Know
Patients who are diagnosed with both coronary artery disease and depression have a twofold increased risk of dying prematurely.
European Heart Journal: Quality of Care & Clinical Outcomes
Diabetes drug to treat Parkinson’s
The diabetes drug exenatide may be effective in treating Parkinson's disease, a British study suggests in The Lancet. Parkinson's is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and affects one in 500 people.
The trial involved 60 people with Parkinson's disease who received either a weekly injection of exenatide for 48 weeks, or a placebo, along with their regular medications.
Those who took the diabetes drug scored four points higher on a 132-point scale of motor function test that measured agility, speech and tremors at the end of the study period than those who took the placebo, a difference that was statistically significant. The benefits persisted even 12 weeks after they stopped the injections. In contrast, those in the placebo group showed a decline in their motor scores at both the 48- and 60-week tests.
"This is a very promising finding, as the drug holds potential to affect the course of the disease itself, and not merely the symptoms. With existing treatments, we can relieve most of the symptoms [of Parkinson's] for some years, but the disease continues to worsen. This is the strongest evidence we have so far that a drug could do more than provide symptom relief for Parkinson's disease," the study author said in a University College London news release.
CONTRIBUTOR: SHYLA JOVITHA ABRAHAM