News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Tea ‘healthier’ drink than water

Tea ‘healthier’ drink than water

Image of a mug of tea

The researchers recommend people consume three to four cups a day

Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits, say researchers.

The work in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates.

Tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers, UK nutritionists found.

Experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health.

Healthy cuppa

These polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent cell damage.

Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so its got two things going for it
Lead author Dr Ruxton

Public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, and colleagues at Kings College London, looked at published studies on the health effects of tea consumption.

They found clear evidence that drinking three to four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack.

Some studies suggested tea consumption protected against cancer, although this effect was less clear-cut.

Other health benefits seen included protection against tooth plaque and potentially tooth decay, plus bone strengthening.

Dr Ruxton said: “Drinking tea is actually better for you than drinking water. Water is essentially replacing fluid. Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so it’s got two things going for it.”

Rehydrating

She said it was an urban myth that tea is dehydrating.

“Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid.

“Also, a cup of tea contains fluoride, which is good for the teeth,” she added.

There was no evidence that tea consumption was harmful to health. However, research suggests that tea can impair the body’s ability to absorb iron from food, meaning people at risk of anaemia should avoid drinking tea around mealtimes.

Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy drink
Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation

Dr Ruxton’s team found average tea consumption was just under three cups per day.

She said the increasing popularity of soft drinks meant many people were not drinking as much tea as before.

“Tea drinking is most common in older people, the 40 plus age range. In older people, tea sometimes made up about 70% of fluid intake so it is a really important contributor,” she said.

Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation said: “Studies in the laboratory have shown potential health benefits.

“The evidence in humans is not as strong and more studies need to be done. But there are definite potential health benefits from the polyphenols in terms of reducing the risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancers.

“In terms of fluid intake, we recommend 1.5-2 litres per day and that can include tea. Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy drink.”

The Tea Council provided funding for the work. Dr Ruxton stressed that the work was independent.

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Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Autism ‘may be missed in girls’

Stressed woman

Girls may show different symptoms

Girls with mild autism are less likely to be identified and diagnosed than boys, a study suggests.

Researchers examined 493 boys and 100 girls with autistic spectrum disorders.

They found the girls showed different symptoms, and fewer signs of symptoms traditionally associated with autism, such as repetitive behavior.

The researchers, who presented their work to a Royal College of Psychiatrists meeting, said this might mean cases among girls are missed.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
University of Cambridge

Autism is thought to affect four times as many boys as girls – but the latest study suggests this might not be the case.

Most of the children featured in the study had been seen at the Social and Communication Disorders Clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Additional cases came from Sunderland and Finland.

All the children were classified as “high-functioning”. They did not have classic autism, but did have difficulties with socialising and communication.

Relationship obsessions

The researchers, who have yet to publish their research, found that the girls were more likely to have obsessional interests centred around people and relationships.

However, these interests were more likely to be acceptable to their parents, and therefore tended not to be reported to doctors.

Characteristics such as shyness and over-sensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits
Judith Gould
National Autistic Society

In addition, these types of obsessions were less likely to be discovered using standard diagnostic questionnaires.

The investigators said more research was needed to analyse how autism spectrum conditions manifest differently in the sexes.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge, agreed.

He said: “This is an important clinical issue and there are too few studies addressing it.

“We shouldn’t assume autism or Asperger syndrome will look the same in both sexes.

“There may be many factors leading to these conditions either being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in females, or leading females to require a diagnosis less often.”

Judith Gould, of the National Autistic Society, said: “We hear from many women who have been diagnosed later in life.

“The way autism is presented in women can be very complex and so can be missed.

“It might be that due to misconceptions and stereotypes, many girls and women with autism are never referred for diagnosis, and so are missing from statistics.

“This may mean that many women who are undiagnosed are not receiving support, which can have a profound effect on them and their families.”

Ms Gould said it was also possible that girls were better at masking difficulties in order to fit in with society.

“Characteristics such as shyness and oversensitivity, common to people affected by autism, are sometimes deemed to be typically female traits.

“However if a boy were to display such characteristics, concerns may be raised.”

August 30, 2008

Website maps surnames worldwide

Website maps surnames worldwide

David Beckham

There are more Beckhams in the United States than Britain

A website which maps global surnames has been launched to help people find the origins of their name and how far it may have spread.

The Public Profiler site plots eight million last names using data from electoral rolls and phone directories.

The site covers 300 million people in 26 countries, showing the origins of names and where families have moved to.

David Beckham, for example, has an English name, but there are more Beckhams in the US than Britain.

But the region of the world with the highest concentration of people called Beckham was even further from the footballer’s east London origins – in the New Zealand province of Northland.

The site – http://www.publicprofiler.org/worldnames – also reveals which of the five million forenames are most closely associated with different surnames and lists the top regions and cities for each surname.

A name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are
Professor Paul Longley

It was developed by a team of geographers from University College London.

Professor Paul Longley, one of the researchers, said: “The information is not just historical but geographical.

“We can link names to places – a name is now not just a statement of who you are but where you are.”

Most surnames originated in specific places in the world and remain most frequent in those areas, but have often spread to other countries because of migration, the research showed.

Searches for Britain’s three multi-gold medallists at the recent Olympics and the leaders of the three main political parties revealed some mixed results.

• Swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Cyclist Chris Hoy’s surname is Irish but more common in Denmark

• Cyclist Bradley Wiggins’s surname is most popular in the US

• Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s surname tops the list in Australia

• Conservative leader David Cameron’s surname is most prevalent in New Zealand

• Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s surname is still most common in Britain

Prof Longley said that the site was currently struggling to cope with demand.

“We are being deluged with requests and we ask people to be patient. There is obviously a lot of interest in family names and family history globally,” he said.

August 13, 2008

Cheap drug hope for breast cancer

Cheap drug hope for breast cancer

Mammography

In the UK, almost 46,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year

A combination of two inexpensive existing drugs may offer a new way to treat breast cancer, according to UK and Finnish researchers.

The common chemotherapy drug and a brittle bone medicine almost completely stopped the growth of tumours in mice.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute said the combination cost a twentieth of Herceptin, given to breast cancer patients by the NHS.

Specialists said the results of human trials now under way would be crucial.

The results of this study could change the way breast cancer patients are treated
Pamela Goldberg
Breast Cancer Campaign

In the UK, almost 46,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.

Although modern treatments mean that cases caught sufficiently early, some via breast screening programmes, have an excellent chance of being successfully treated.

The study was a joint project between researchers at the University of Sheffield and the Kuopio University in Finland.

Its findings could offer an even more effective way to help some patients.

It used a dose of the drug doxorubicin, a common component of chemotherapy regimes, followed 24 hours later by zoledronic acid, currently given to osteoporosis patients.

In the mice, this stopped 99.99% of new cancer cell growth in tumours.

It is thought the first drug could be “priming” the tumour to be more sensitive to the cancer-cell killing qualities of the second drug.

Dr Ingunn Holen, who led the study, said that the study showed that the drug cocktail could “kill breast tumours”.

“These results show that a patient may benefit the most if these two drugs are given in this particular order.”

She said that the results of a human trial were expected later this year.

Speed advantage

If that proves successful, the drugs would not have to undergo a lengthy licensing process, simply have the change of use included in their current licence.

Breast Cancer Campaign, the charity which funded the study, said it was encouraged by the potential for the drug to be made swiftly available to women.

Its chief executive, Pamela Goldberg, said: “The results of this study could change the way breast cancer patients are treated.

“The good news is the that the two treatments are relatively inexpensive and already used in the clinic.”

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said that a study in humans would be important.

“Establishing the most effective combinations of drug treatments and the timings in which they are given is an important area of clinical research.

“But the benefits of giving zoledronic acid after doxorubicin have only been shown here in mice and now need to be evaluated more fully in people with breast cancer.”

August 5, 2008

Study revives six degrees theory

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A US study of instant messaging suggests the theory that it takes only six steps to link everyone may be right – though seven seems more accurate.

Microsoft researchers studied the addresses of 30bn instant messages sent during a single month in 2006.

Any two people on average are linked by seven or fewer acquaintances, they say.

The theory of six degrees of separation has long captured people’s imagination – notably inspiring a popular 1993 film – but had recently seemed discredited.

One of the researchers on the Microsoft Messenger project, Eric Horvitz, said he had been shocked by the results.

“What we’re seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity,” he was quoted as saying by the Washington Post newspaper.

“People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore.”

Urban myth?

The database used by Mr Horvitz and his colleague Jure Leskovec covered all of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network, or roughly half of the world’s instant-messaging traffic, in June 2006.

For the purposes of the study, two people were considered to be acquaintances if they had sent one another an instant message.

Examining the minimum chain lengths it would take to connect all the users in the database, they found the average length was 6.6 steps and that 78% of the pairs could be connected in seven links or fewer.

The idea of six degrees of separation was conceived by US academic Stanley Milgram, after experiments in which he asked people to pass a letter only to others they knew by name.

The aim was to get it, eventually, to a named person they did not know living in another city.

The average number of times it was passed on, he said, was six – hence, the six degrees of separation.

However, in July 2006, Judith Kleinfeld, professor of psychology at Alaska Fairbanks University, went back to Milgram’s original research notes and discovered that 95% of the letters sent out had failed to reach their target.

She suggested that the six degrees theory might be the academic equivalent of an urban myth.

The Microsoft researchers said that, to their knowledge, their study had for the first time validated Milgram’s theory on a planetary scale.

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