Study: Smiling When You Have Your Flu Jab Helps Develop Stronger Defenses

Study: Smiling When You Have Your Flu Jab Helps Develop Stronger Defenses

A new British study entitles “Smile — it might save your life” has found that people who are in a happy mood on the day of their annual flu jab develop stronger antibody defenses than patients who merely feel so-so.

What’s more, they only have to feel happy on the day they received the vaccination and not the moment they’re given it, say the Nottingham University researchers according to the British Daily Mail newspaper.

Scientists have previously fixated on the harm that negative emotions wreak on our bodies. They can significantly increase our risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Positive moods have largely been ignored by comparison. But emerging evidence suggests that being positive-minded may boost our health in numerous ways.

Kavita Vedhara, a professor of health psychology who led the Nottingham University study, had previously looked at how being stressed can damage our defenses, specifically people who were under significant stress from caring for loved ones.

‘We found that they fared worse than normal when given flu vaccines: they produced fewer flu antibodies,’ she says.
Vaccines contain an inactive version of a virus that trains our immune systems to recognize the live virus and attack it. The more antibodies we produce, the more powerful our defense against infection becomes.

Moreover, UK expert in psychoneuro-immunology Dr. Neil Harrison said that comedy could not only reduce inflammation, but also boost the immune system; referring to the relationship between emotion and our immune responses.

‘It is not fanciful to suggest that our emotions can influence our immune systems positively,’ says Dr. Harrison, head of the Psychoneuroimmunology Lab at Brighton & Sussex Medical School. ‘Research already shows that our emotional states can alter the activity of the vagus nerve, which links brain and body and is involved with many of the internal organs, as well as with our immune systems.

‘This shows that our emotional brains can alter the behavior of the immune system — and hopefully this can happen in a positive way to boost its response.’

Food Trends and Your Heart

The Nutrition Facts label is seen on a box of Pop Tarts at a store in New York

Cambridge- The type and amount of fat, carbohydrate, sugar, and salt in our food supply has changed over the years — for better and for worse.

Remember when packaged foods emblazoned with the words “fat free” seemed to be everywhere? Then came labels boasting “zero grams of trans fat.” “Sugar free” and “low sodium” claims soon joined the chorus. These days, gluten-free foods are all the rage.

For the most part, these food industry trends echoed the nutritional mantras of the time and were designed to improve our health — especially cardiovascular health. Not only is heart disease the nation’s leading killer, there’s overwhelming evidence that better dietary choices could prevent many heart attacks and strokes. But just how successful have these efforts been?

“It’s a mixed picture, but over all, I think we’re going in a good direction,” says Dr. Walter Willett, professor in nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The biggest change — and greatest success story — is removal of trans fats from processed foods, he says.

The trouble with trans fats

The main source of these harmful fats is partially hydrogenated oil, a longtime food industry favorite because it’s cheap, it’s easy to use, and it has a long shelf life. For decades, deep-fried fast foods, baked goods, crackers, chips, and margarine were made with partially hydrogenated oils.

But in the 1990s, researchers at Harvard and elsewhere began sounding the alarm on the adverse health effects of trans fats. Trans fats raise undesirable LDL cholesterol, make blood more likely to clot, and ramp up inflammation in the body — all of which raise heart disease risk. In 2003, the FDA began requiring manufacturers to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label to boost consumer awareness. As a result, many companies chose to stop using trans fats in their products.

In 2007, New York City pioneered a ban on trans fat in foods sold in public eateries, and the health benefits were apparent within just a few years. One recent study found lower rates of heart attacks and strokes in the urban counties that implemented the trans fat ban compared with other urban counties in the state that did not ban trans fats.

This healthful trend should be spreading throughout the country, thanks to a long-awaited FDA ruling to ban trans fats entirely from our food supply by June 2018. “At this point, about 85% of the trans fat has been removed from our food supply,” says Dr. Willett. For the most part, healthier unsaturated fats (such as those found in olive, corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower oils) have replaced trans fats. Some products now contain small amounts of less-desirable saturated fat from coconut and palm oils. However, many reformulated products cut back on trans fat without increasing saturated fat, according to a survey of 83 major-brand grocery store products and restaurant dishes.

These changes jibe with the overall improvement in fat quality in the United States, Dr. Willett notes. This trend helps explain why people who eat higher-fat diets (especially those that include more unsaturated fats) are better off than those who eat low-fat diets, as a major study by Dr. Willett and colleagues found last year.

The carb calamity

The low-fat craze that took hold in the 1980s turned out to have unintended — and very unhealthy — consequences. Following the nutrition dogma of the day, food manufacturers cut fat from their products. But they often replaced it with refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and sugar. Americans also began eating more carbs (think pasta, white potatoes, white bread, and sugary desserts). Eating less fat, however, doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight. And diets high in refined carbohydrates may contribute to weight gain and promote type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Just as is true for fats, some carbohydrates are far healthier than others. The best choices include unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, such as whole-wheat or rye bread, brown rice, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, popcorn, and corn tortillas. Recent diet surveys suggest a slow but steady increase in whole grains in American diets. They’re great sources of heart-protecting nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Going against the grain?

But some grains — including wheat, barley, and rye — also contain gluten, a protein that’s been getting lots of attention in recent years. “Gluten-free diets have been a big trend lately, but there is no good evidence to support these diets for most people,” says Dr. Willett. Exceptions include people with celiac disease, which affects about 1% of the population. In people with the disorder, gluten triggers the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine, leading to gut inflammation, pain and other debilitating symptoms. Another small group of people who report feeling better when they eliminate gluten may have “gluten sensitivity,” but this condition isn’t well documented.

According to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet could improve their mental or physical health. And up to a third of are cutting back on it in the hope that it will improve their health or prevent disease.

In fact, the opposite might be true. A recent Harvard study found that people who avoid gluten may eat fewer whole-grain foods. Also, gluten-free packaged foods may have more sugar, fat, and salt than their gluten-containing counterparts. Gluten-free diets aren’t inherently bad, but the way they’ve been translated into the average diet isn’t necessarily healthy, says Dr. Willett. People who need or want to avoid wheat should be sure to eat gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, oats, buckwheat, and quinoa.

Sugar: Good news, bad news

The carbohydrates that pose the greatest threat to heart health are the simple, refined ones — especially sugar. High-sugar diets have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, even in people who aren’t overweight. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks contribute most of the added sugar in the average American’s diet. But recent data show that consumption of sugary drinks has dropped by about 25% in the United States over the past decade, thanks in part to education campaigns and bans on soda sales in schools. This encouraging trend also seems to be slowing the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to heart disease, says Dr. Willett.

Unfortunately, other sugar-awareness efforts are on hold. In 2016, the FDA approved a revamp of the Nutrition Facts label that would require food manufacturers to list added sugars in their products, among other changes. The rule was originally slated to take effect in July 2018, but the agency announced earlier this year that it will postpone its implementation indefinitely.

One anticipated benefit of the label change was that companies would scale back the sugar in their products, similar to what happened with trans fats. In fact, some yogurt and beverage companies have already done so. It’s too early to know if this strategy will prove successful, however. Some food companies that tried removing some sodium from certain products (such as soups and vegetable juices) have now reintroduced it, says Dr. Willett. “Their competitors didn’t make the change, and the low-sodium products tasted different. We really need to create a level playing field,” he says.

Salt: Still too high

In 2016, the FDA proposed voluntary guidelines for the food industry to slash the amount of sodium in our food supply. Excess sodium (which pairs with chloride to form salt) is linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke. The average American eats about 50% more sodium than nutrition experts recommend, and much of is already in their food before it reaches the table.

Time will tell if the FDA guidelines will make a difference. But a recent study suggests that we’ve been moving in the right direction: the average amount of sodium that households acquired from packaged foods and beverages decreased by 400 milligrams per capita between 2000 and 2014. In the meantime, see “Choosing the healthiest supermarket products” for tips on reading labels and ingredient lists while you shop.

Choosing the healthiest grocery products

When shopping for processed foods — anything bagged, packaged, canned, or bottled — check the Nutrition Facts label. Note that the Daily Value (DV) is the recommended level of a given nutrient for a person eating 2,000 calories per day.

For saturated fat, look for a % DV of 5% or less.

The same goes for sodium: % DV 5% or less.

For sugar, there is no % DV, but experts recommend that women consume no more than 24 grams daily; men should limit intake to 36 grams per day.

When selecting breads, cereals, and grain-based foods, check the list of ingredients. The first ingredient should be a whole grain, such as whole wheat (not enriched wheat). “Multigrain” just means the product includes more than one grain — and they’re not necessarily whole grains.

(Harvard Heart Letter)

Oxford University to Test Universal Flu Vaccine in World First

A nurse vaccinates a patient as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice

A seasonal flu vaccine that would be the first in the world to fight all types of the virus is to be tested in a two-year clinical trial involving more than 2,000 patients by researchers in Oxford.

The so-called universal vaccine was developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Vaccitech, a spin-out biotech company founded by Jenner scientists.

Current flu vaccines have to be changed each year to match strains of virus circulating at the time and they do not always protect people that well, especially older patients with weak immune systems.

The new vaccine works by using proteins found in the core of the virus rather than those on its surface. Surface proteins stick out like pins from the virus and change all the time, while those in the core are stable.

Significantly, the new vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to boost virus-killing T-cells, instead of antibodies. Previous research has shown such T-cells can help fight more than one type of flu virus.

Researchers hope the new vaccine will provide better and longer-lasting protection when used alongside the regular seasonal flu shot.

“We’re hoping it will last two to three years – maybe even four years – but we really don’t know until we do the trials,” Vaccitech Chief Executive Tom Evans told Reuters.

The new vaccine has already been tested for safety in earlier trials. Now it is advancing into mid-stage Phase IIb testing, which will see the recruitment of at least 500 British subjects this season. The remainder will be recruited during the 2018/9 flu season.

It is the first time a universal flu vaccine has progressed beyond Phase I clinical testing.

Assuming it is successful in Phase IIb, the new shot will still have to go into much bigger and expensive final-stage testing and Evans said the plan would be to bring in a partner at this stage of development.

“We would look for a better-capitalized company to take this into final Phase III tests,” he said.

Leading manufacturers of seasonal flu vaccines include Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and CSL’s Seqirus, which includes the old Novartis flu vaccine business.

Scientists Edit Embryos’ Genes to Study Early Human Development

Scientists used the CRISPR-Cas9 system to 'edit' growing human embryos to see what would occur when a key gene was removed. Pictured is an edited embryo without OCT4 on the fifth day of development - it does not form a proper blastocyst

London- British scientists have used a genome editing tool known as CRISPR/Cas9 to knock out a gene in embryos just a few days old, testing the technique’s ability to decipher key gene functions in early human development.

The researchers said their experiments, using a technology that is the subject of fierce international debate because of fears that it could be used to create babies to order, will deepen understanding of the biology of early human development.

CRISPR/Cas9 can enable scientists to find and modify or replace genetic defects. Many describe it as game-changing.

“One way to find out what a gene does in the developing embryo is to see what happens when it isn’t working,” said Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientists who led the research at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute.

“Now we have demonstrated an efficient way of doing this, we hope that other scientists will use it to find out the roles of other genes.”

She said her hope was for scientists to decipher the roles of all the key genes embryos need to develop successfully. This could then improve IVF treatments for infertile couples and also help doctors understand why so many pregnancies fail.

“It may take many years to achieve such an understanding, our study is just the first step,” Niakan said.

Niakan’s team decided to use it to stop a key gene from producing a protein called OCT4, which normally becomes active in the first few days of human embryo development.

They spent more than a year optimizing their various techniques using mouse embryos and human embryonic stem cells in lab dishes, before starting work on human embryos.

To inactivate OCT4, they used CRISPR/Cas9 to change the DNA of 41 human embryos. After seven days, embryo development was stopped and the embryos were analyzed.

After an egg is fertilized, it divides until at about seven days it forms a ball of around 200 cells called a blastocyst, Niakan explained in a briefing about her work.

Her results, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, found that human embryos need OCT4 to form a blastocyst. Without it, the blastocyst cannot form or develop normally.

The British team’s work comes on the heels of milestone science in the United States, where scientists said in July they had succeeded in altering the genes of a human embryo to correct a disease-causing mutation.

Rob Buckle, chief science officer at Britain’s Medical Research Council, praised Niakan’s research and findings:

“Genome editing technologies – particularly CRISPR-Cas9 used in this study – are having a game-changing effect on our ability to understand the function of critical human genes,” he said.

Should You Consider a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan?

Should You Consider a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan?

If you’re on the fence about whether to take a statin, this test might make sense.

Cardiologists constantly seek better ways to predict who will have a heart attack. Among the many potentially helpful options is a coronary artery calcium scan. This test uses a special x-ray machine called a computed tomography (CT) scanner that takes multiple pictures of the heart in thin sections. Combined, the scans produce a view that can reveal specks of calcium in the walls of the heart’s arteries. These specks, called calcifications, are an early sign of cardiovascular disease.

But this test doesn’t make sense for everyone. A person who is under age 40 or has a very low risk of heart disease shouldn’t have one; nor should a person who already has heart disease. In both of those cases, the test results are unlikely to change their treatment. “But for a person without heart disease whose risk falls somewhere in the middle and who is trying to decide whether to take a statin, the results from a coronary artery calcium scan can be helpful,” says Dr. Ron Blankstein, a cardiovascular imaging specialist and preventive cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The middle ground
In 2013, an expert panel recommended statins for people who have cardiovascular disease are ages 40 to 75 and have diabetes have an LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL or higher have at least a 7.5% estimated risk of heart attack or stroke within the next decade (a figure your health care provider can calculate and discuss with you).

In all cases, providers should discuss the pros and cons of statin therapy and consider the patient’s preferences, says Dr. Ron Blankstein. For those people who don’t fall into the above groups, a coronary artery calcium scan could offer helpful information.

Help with the statin decision

Consider a 58-year-old man whose 10-year risk of heart attack is around 7% and who is on the fence about whether to take a statin. If his calcium score is greater than zero, and especially if it is greater than 100, treatment with a statin (and often aspirin) would likely be important, says Dr. Blankstein. And some research suggests that receiving a high score helps motivate people to work harder on their heart disease prevention efforts, like adopting healthy eating and exercise habits.

On the flip side, the absence of coronary calcifications (a calcium score of zero) suggests a very low risk of heart attack. In that case, a statin is less likely to offer significant benefit. Focusing on lifestyle changes and controlling high blood pressure or other risk factors might be enough.

Costs and risks

Insurance coverage for coronary artery calcium scans varies widely, but the out-of-pocket cost typically ranges between $100 and $200. The scan itself takes less than 10 seconds and doesn’t require an intravenous injection. It does involve a small amount of radiation exposure, similar to the amount from a mammogram or the amount of background radiation a person normally receives from the environment over four months. But unlike a mammogram, which is often done on a yearly basis, a coronary artery calcium scan should be done no more than once every 10 years, says Dr. Blankstein.

Still, some cardiologists are less enthusiastic about the usefulness of the test. One reason is that there’s never been a major study comparing the outcomes of people who were or were not screened with coronary artery calcium scans and then treated accordingly. However, that’s also true for the new statin guidelines, which have never been shown in a randomized trial to improve heart health or survival, says Dr. Blankstein. Medicine always entails some level of uncertainty, he notes. If you’re in a mid-range risk group, a conversation with a trusted physician can help you decide if this scan could help clarify some of the uncertainty about your own heart disease risk.

(Harvard Health Publications)

Sleeping in Planes May Damage Hearing

Sleeping on a plane

London- A new research published by Harvard Medical School revealed that snoozing on planes really could mean losing hearing. If you are asleep on a plane during a sudden change in altitude, your ability to equalize the pressure in your eardrum might be compromised and could cause permanent damage.

For most people, a sudden altitude change makes our ears feel like they’re going to pop. This occurs when the pressures on the outside of your ear don’t match those on the inside. Often, this happens to most people when a plane is landing and drastically drops in altitude.

Typically, these pressures can be equalized by opening a thin canal in your ear called the Eustachian tube by either yawning or swallowing, and this is why some airlines sometimes hand out chewy sweets before landing.

However, in severe cases when the tube remains blocked for a prolonged period of time, an infection can develop which causes fluid to build up behind the eardrum, leading to pain and hearing difficulties.

Given its direct association with changes in altitude, it’s also a condition that commonly affects scuba divers and people driving in the mountains.

Treating Insomnia Can Ease Depression, Paranoia

Mental health, Insomnia

London- Treating young people who suffer from insomnia by using online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could reduce debilitating mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, scientists said on Wednesday.

In a large trial published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, researchers at Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute also found that successfully treating sleep disruption eased psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia.

“Sleep problems are very common in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties,” said Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology who led the work.

“This study turns that old idea on its head, showing that insomnia may actually be a contributory cause of mental health problems.”

The research involved 3,755 university students from across Britain who were randomized into two groups. One group had six sessions of online CBT, each lasting about 20 minutes, and delivered via a digital program called Sleepio. The others had access to standard treatments but no CBT.

Freeman’s team monitored participants’ mental health with a series of online questionnaires at zero, three, 10 and 22 weeks from the start of treatment.

The researchers found that those who had the CBT sleep treatment reduced their insomnia significantly as well as showing small but sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences.

The CBT also led to improvements in depression, anxiety, nightmares, psychological well-being, and daytime work and home functioning.

Andrew Welchman, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust health charity which helped fund the research, said the results suggested improving sleep may provide a promising route into early treatment to improve mental health.

Freeman added: “A good night’s sleep really can make a difference to people’s psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological and emotional problems.”

Tall People at Greater Risk for Venous Blood Clots

Blood clots- Body height

Tall people are more vulnerable when it comes to developing blood clots in their veins, according to a study of more than two million Swedish siblings.

For men 6-foot-2 or taller, researchers found a risk increase of 65 percent when compared to men 5-foot-3 or shorter. Women at least 6 feet tall showed a 69 percent increased risk of venous thromboembolism versus women shorter than 5-foot-1.

These findings were published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

“It could just be that because taller individuals have longer leg veins there is more surface area where problems can occur,” lead researcher Bengt Zöller, MD, PhD, associate professor at Lund University and Malmö University Hospital in Malmö, Sweden, said in a statement. “There is also more gravitational pressure in leg veins of taller persons that can increase the risk of blood flow slowing or temporarily stopping.”

Several researchers have previously associated body height with an increased risk of venous thromboembolism. Zöller noted the incidence of thrombosis has increased over time, which could be tied to height gains in populations around the world.

“I think we should start to include height in risk assessment just as overweight, although formal studies are needed to determine exactly how height interacts with inherited blood disorders and other conditions,” he said.

New Camera Sees Through Human Body By Detecting Light

The camera has been designed to help doctors track medical tools known as endoscopes within the body

London- Scientists have developed a camera that can see through the human body.

The device has been designed to help doctors track medical tools, known as endoscopes, during internal examinations.

Until now, medics have had to rely on expensive scans, such as X-rays, to trace their progress.
The new camera works by detecting light sources inside the body, such as the illuminated tip of the endoscope’s long flexible tube.

Prof Kev Dhaliwal, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “It has immense potential for diverse applications, such as the one described in this work.

“The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease.”

‘Tissues and organs’

Early tests have shown the prototype device can track a point light source through 20cm of tissue under normal conditions.

Beams from the endoscope can pass through the body, but usually scatter or bounce off tissues and organs rather than traveling straight through.

That makes it problematic to get a clear picture of where the tool is.

The new camera can detect individual particles, called photons, and is so sensitive it can catch tiny traces of light passing through tissue.

It can also record the time taken for light to pass through the body, meaning the device is able to work out exactly where the endoscope is.

Researchers have developed the new camera so it can be used at the patient’s bedside.

The project – led by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University – is part of the Proteus Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, which is developing a range of new technologies for diagnosing and treating lung diseases.

Dr. Michael Tanner, of Heriot-Watt University, said: “My favorite element of this work was the ability to work with clinicians to understand a practical healthcare challenge, then tailor advanced technologies and principles that would not normally make it out of a physics lab to solve real problems.

“I hope we can continue this interdisciplinary approach to make a real difference in healthcare technology.”

Study: Tenth of Men Aged 50 ‘Have Heart Age 10 Years Older’


London- A new study conducted over 1.2 million volunteers including men and women, as part of a public health campaign in England, found that one out of ten men in the country have their heart older than they really are.

The study made reported that having an “old” heart significantly increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as other serious health issues such as chronic kidney disease and diabetes, according to BBC.

The study was conducted in cooperation among several charity and official organizations concerned in the heart and public health in England.

Each month an estimated 7,400 people in England die from heart disease or stroke.

Associate Professor Jamie Waterall, lead for cardiovascular disease prevention at Public Health England (PHE), said: “We should all aim for our heart age to be the same as our real age.”

Talking to the Press Association, he added: “Addressing our risk of heart disease and stroke should not be left until we are older,” noting that Heart Age Test used in the study provides an immediate idea of heart attack and stroke risk without having to see a doctor.

The PHE test is an online assessment available to anyone over the age of 30 based on health information such as cholesterol level and blood pressure, medical history, and lifestyle habits.

It calculates whether your heart is as healthy as would be expected for a person of your age.

Dr. Mike Knapton, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “The Heart Age Test is a quick and easy way to estimate the number of years you will live in good health.”