Check up

    21 February 2015


    The new risks of reading in bed

    Did you get an e-reader for Christmas? They have become some of the most popular gifts as more and more people find them easy and convenient to use.

    But according to a new study from a research team at Harvard Medical School, regularly reading from such a device can seriously impact an individual’s ability to sleep at night, while also having potential long-term adverse effects on their health.

    Backlit e-readers often contain ‘blue light’, which has been found to prevent the body from producing its usual levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. This type of light is also present in smartphones, tablets and LED bulbs. Blue light can disrupt a person’s body clock, particularly if it is shining directly into their eyes. The study found that those who read from a backlit screen took longer to fall asleep, did not sleep as deeply and were more likely to feel tired the next morning in comparison to when they read from a paperback. We’ll be covering sleep in the next issue.

    The new flu picks on senior citizens

    Cases of flu in the UK are on the up, according to the latest official figures. Statistics from Public Health England show that doctors and hospitals have reported significant weekly increases in the number of patients they are treating for flu. This winter, the age of eligibility for a free preventative NHS flu jab was extended: it’s now offered to children aged four, as well as pregnant women, young babies and the elderly.

    Doctors have identified the main virus circulating this winter as influenza A type H3N2, which tends to affect elderly people more than others. This could explain why hospitalisations have risen, because flu can trigger respiratory and other health problems in older individuals.

    Contracting cancer really is bad luck…

    It’s well known that people can make certain lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, that will potentially reduce their risk of developing certain types of cancer, but according to a recent study, contracting the disease is often down to pure bad luck. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health analysed different tissues and discovered that some cells mutate just by chance.

    They found that a significant two thirds of all cases of cancer are due to bad luck because of the way an individual’s tissues mutate.

    … to improve your chances, try this

    The turnover of cells takes place at various paces in different parts of the body, meaning some organs and tissues may be more likely to be affected by cancer than others. However, it is important to remember that certain lifestyle factors can still contribute to the onset of cancer. Smoking accounts for approximately one fifth of all cases of the disease worldwide.

    Additionally, excessive consumption of alcohol, being overweight and spending long periods of time in the sun can all increase a person’s risk of developing the life-threatening condition.

    Asthmatics never inhale — honestly

    A significant number of people who have been diagnosed with asthma do not receive adequate training on how best to use an inhaler, according to a new report. Asthma still kills three people a day, so this finding matters. The charities Asthma UK and Allergy UK are calling for improved training to be given to those diagnosed with asthma or serious allergies to ensure they are adequately equipped should they experience an attack. The study found that only 16 per cent of people knew how to use an epipen while just 7 per cent could use an asthma inhaler properly. For more information on asthma, including videos of how to use inhalers properly, look at Asthma UK’s website



    Migraines are worse than you thought

    People could be at a greater risk of developing Bell’s palsy if they regularly experience migraines, according to a new study. Bell’s palsy is a condition that results in temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles, often affecting just one side, creating a drooping effect. The onset of the illness has been attributed to facial nerves becoming compressed or inflamed in the past, while diabetes, high blood pressure and gender can all influence its development too.

    However, new research suggests migraines could be to blame. It is thought that viral infections may lead to inflammation of the cranial nerves, triggering migraines, as well as Bell’s palsy.

    Our website can work wonders

    Have you had a look at the Spectator Health website yet? Well, it might just be good for your health. According to research published last month, older people who regularly use the internet are more likely to be able to manage their health by themselves as they age.

    Using data relating to almost 4,500 participants of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing from 2004 to 2011, doctors looked at the health literacy levels of over-50s living in England as they got older.

    When the study began, 73 per cent of participants had adequate health literacy, with the score for this falling by one or more points for 19 per cent of people after six years.

    It was noted that there was a gradual decline in health literacy as people aged, meaning they were less able to make choices about their health at precisely the time in their life when they were most likely to need it.

    Although factors such as low wealth, few educational qualifications and poor cognitive function all contributed towards declines in health literacy, rarely using the internet or enjoying a cultural activity also contributed to this fall. To keep abreast of the latest news and views on health, look at



    Even more reasons to eat up your greens

    Nitrate, a chemical naturally present in green vegetables such as spinach, celery and lettuce, has been discovered to have significant benefits for cardiovascular health in a series of studies. Doctors from the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton have been exploring exactly how eating greens can be good for people, finding that not only can they aid with heart health, but they can also reduce a person’s risk of becoming obese and lower their blood pressure.

    They found that this is because of the presence of nitrate in certain green foods, which can help to reduce the body’s production of the hormone erythropoietin. This chemical is made in the kidneys and liver and regulates red blood cell levels. In situations where the body is short of oxygen — such as at high altitudes or when a person has a cardiovascular condition — the organs increase their production of erythropoietin. However, this can adversely affect the health, due to high numbers of red blood cells making the blood thicker, therefore potentially starving organs and tissues of oxygen, as blood can no longer flow through smaller vessels.

    The investigation also revealed that greens can assist in turning ‘bad’ fat cells into ‘good’ fat cells. By converting potentially harmful fats, nitrate can help to prevent the onset of obesity, as well as type 2 diabetes.