Healthy diet and exercise boost survival after colon cancer diagnosis


A healthy diet and regular physical activity can improve survival and lower the risk of death in patients with colon cancer.

For the study published in JAMA Oncology, 992 patients with stage 3 colon cancer were ranked 0 to 6 based on their adherence to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. A higher score indicated healthier behaviours. Only 9 per cent of the participants had an ACS guideline score of 5 to 6.

Compared to patients with a 0 to 1 score, those who scored 5 to 6 score had a 42 per cent lower risk of death during the study period and improved disease-free survival.

“Having a healthy body weight, being physically active, and eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains after diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer was associated with a longer survival,” the study concluded.

Did You Know

New guidelines issued by US Preventive Services Task Force advise against taking vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent falls and fractures in adults aged 65 or older, and, instead, recommend regular exercise as the best prevention.


Fat belly associated with heart problems

Belly fat is bad for your heart even if you are not obese, according to a study presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

"People with a normal weight, but a fat belly, have more chance of heart problems than people without a fat belly even if they are obese according to BMI,” the lead researcher said.

For the study, 1,692 people, aged 45 and older, were followed for about 16 years.

Those with a normal BMI, but high levels of belly fat, were about twice more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or to death from cardiovascular causes compared to participants without central obesity, regardless of their BMI.

"If you have fat around your belly and it is greater than the size of your hips, visit your doctor to assess your cardiovascular health and fat distribution. If you have central obesity, the target will be waist loss rather than weight loss. Exercise more, decrease sedentary time by taking the stairs, increase your muscle mass with strength and resistance training, and cut out refined carbohydrates."

Prolonged sitting may dampen memory

Prolonged siting can shrink the part of the brain that is crucial for memory, which could be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia, says a US study led by Prabha Siddarth, published in the journal PLOS One.

Previous studies have already shown that too much sitting can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death.

To analyse the effect of sedentary behaviour on brain health, especially brain regions critical to memory formation, the researchers asked 35 people, aged 45 to 75, about their levels of physical activity as well as the average number of hours they spent sitting each day over the previous week.

The participants had MRI scans that provided detailed information about the medial temporal lobe, or MTL, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories.

Sitting for long periods of time correlated with the thinning of the MTL irrespective of how much time was spent exercising. Each additional hour of average daily sitting was associated with a 2 per cent decrease in the thickness of the MTL.

Physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods, the researchers noted.

“MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. Reducing sedentary behaviour may be a possible target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer's disease,” researchers said.

Night owls could die early

Night owls—people who stay up late and have difficulty waking up in the morning— are more likely to die early than larks, who go to bed and wake up early.

Previous studies have already established an increased risk of metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular disease in the night owls.

The study in the journal Chronobiology International was based on 433,268 people, aged 38 to 73, who were identified as either a 'definite morning type', a 'moderate morning type', a 'moderate evening type' or a 'definite evening type'. They were followed for six and half years.

The 'definite evening type' group had a 10 per cent higher risk of dying over the study period than the 'definite morning types'.

Night owls also had more health problems: twice the risk for psychological disorders; 30 per cent higher chance of having diabetes; 25 per cent increased risk of neurological problems; 23 per cent greater risk of gastrointestinal disorders; and 22 per cent increased risk of respiratory disease.

Being a night owl could interfere with our biological clock and negatively impact our health. "It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drugs or alcohol use. There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviours related to being up late in the dark by yourself," the study author noted.

The study suggested that the night owls should try to go to bed early, stick to a regular bedtime, avoid using smartphones late night, get exposure to natural light in the morning and follow an overall healthy lifestyle.

Coffee and nuts are good for your heart

Drinking up to three cups of coffee per day and regular consumption of nuts may lower the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythms, which can lead to strokes.

For the coffee study, published in the journal JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, Australian researchers analysed multiple studies. One meta-analysis of 228,465 participants showed the risk of atrial fibrillation was 6 per cent lower in regular coffee drinkers, and a further analysis of 115,993 participants found a 13 per cent risk reduction.

“There is a public perception, often based on anecdotal experience, that caffeine is a common acute trigger for heart rhythm problems. Our extensive review suggests that this is not the case,” the lead author said.

The caffeine in coffee acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system and blocks the effects of adenosine, a chemical that can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm.

“Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may have long term anti-arrhythmic properties mediated by antioxidant effects. In numerous population-based studies, patients who regularly consume coffee and tea at moderate levels have a lower lifetime risk of developing heart rhythm problems, and possibly improved survival.”

Another study, published in the journal Heart, included 61,364 Swedish adults aged 45-83 years, whose nut consumption and cardiovascular health was tracked for 17 years or until death.

Regular nut consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and abdominal aortic aneurysm. But, the association with atrial fibrillation was the strongest.

Eating nuts three or more times a week was tied to an 18 per cent reduced risk of atrial fibrillation. Weekly nut consumption was also associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of heart failure.

“These findings suggest that nut consumption may play a role in reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation and possibly heart failure,” the study concluded.

Did You Know

A person’s level of education, and not his/her income, is a much better predictor of life expectancy.

Population and Development Review

Immunotherapy boosts survival of lung cancer patients

According to two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, immunotherapy or drugs that help a patient's immune system to fight cancer, can greatly improve the condition of patients battling lung cancer.

The first study found that when the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab was added to standard chemotherapy, survival in patients with non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer doubled, compared to chemotherapy alone.

The phase 3 clinical trial included 616 lung cancer patients from 118 treatment centres around the world. Four hundred and five patients were randomly assigned to receive the combination treatment, while the remaining patients received chemotherapy alone.

The combination group fared much better in response rates, overall survival, and progression-free survival rates—the risk of death was reduced by 51 per cent and the chance of progression or death was reduced by 48 per cent compared to chemotherapy alone group.

About 69 per cent of patients on the combination therapy were alive 12 months after treatment had started, compared to 49 per cent of those on chemotherapy.

“The data show that treatment with pembrolizumab and chemotherapy together is more effective than chemotherapy alone. Using this combination therapy to treat patients with such an aggressive disease could be an important advance in keeping patients alive and well for longer,” said Dr Leena Gandhi, the lead researcher.

The second study was based on 299 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who received either a combination of the immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab, or standard chemotherapy.

After a year of follow up, those on the two immunotherapy drugs were 42 per cent less likely to see their cancer progress compared to 13 per cent of those who received chemotherapy.

The two findings could change the way doctors treat lung cancer, a leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

More than five drinks a week may shorten lifespan

A new British study published in the Lancet shows that consuming more than five drinks a week can increase the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.

The safe amount of drinking for lowest risk for all-cause mortality is about five drinks, or 100gm of alcohol, per week. Drinking above this limit was linked with lower life expectancy in a study of 599,912 drinkers, without previous cardiovascular disease, across 19 countries.

During an average seven and a half years of follow-up, there were 40,310 deaths from all causes, 39,018 cardiovascular events and 1,121 deaths from other cardiovascular diseases.

Those who had more than ten drinks per week could shorten their life by one to two years. Having 18 drinks or more per week may shave off four to five years of your life.

Alcohol consumption was also associated with a higher risk of stroke (14 per cent), heart failure (9 per cent), fatal aortic aneurysms (15 per cent), and fatal hypertensive disease (24 per cent).

However, alcohol consumption was associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, but according to the authors, this “must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious and potentially fatal cardiovascular diseases”.

"Drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions,” said the lead author of the study.

Did You Know

Hand dryers in public restrooms suck up the bacteria around the bathroom and spray them on to the hands of people who use them.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Exercise for a healthy heart

Exercise can reduce your risk for heart attacks and strokes even if you have a genetic pre-disposition for heart disease, according to new findings published in the journal Circulation.

The findings were based on the fitness and activity levels of 482,702 British adults aged 40 to 69, whose genetic data was also assessed.

During six years of follow up, there were 20,914 reported cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Those with the highest genetic risk were most vulnerable—they were 77 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to people with the lowest genetic risk.

Greater grip strength, more physical activity and better cardiorespiratory fitness were all associated with a reduced risk for heart attacks and stroke, even among people who had a genetic risk for heart diseases.

For those with the highest genetic risk for cardiovascular diseases, high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were linked to a 49 per cent lower risk for coronary heart disease and a 60 per cent lower risk for atrial fibrillation.

For people with an intermediate genetic risk, those with the strongest grips had a 36 per cent reduced risk for coronary heart disease and a 46 per cent lower risk for atrial fibrillation compared to participants with the same genetic risk who had the weakest grips.

Antidepressants in pregnancy may alter foetal brain development

For the study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers compared the brain scans of 16 newborns whose mothers took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression during pregnancy, with 21 newborns whose mothers had untreated depression during pregnancy, and 61 babies whose mothers did not have depression.

SSRI exposure in the womb was associated with an increase in the size of grey matter found in the amygdala and the insula regions of brain that play a critical role in emotional processing, as well as an increase in white matter connections between the two regions.

Animal research has linked such increases to a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression in adolescence. But, its effect on the cognitive and emotional development of humans is not fully understood.

Maternal depression can increase the risk of low birth weight and pre-term births, and also affect mother-infant bonding. “So, doing nothing is not necessarily the answer. But, other interventions, such as non-SSRI antidepressants and psychotherapy, can help depressed moms get through pregnancy,” the study author suggested.

“The study highlights the need for further research on the potential long-term behavioural and psychological outcomes of these neurodevelopmental changes,” the study concluded.