Tuning a piano 'moulds the mind'

Tuning a piano also tunes the brain, say researchers who have seen structural changes within the brains of professional piano tuners.
Researchers at University College London and Newcastle University found listening to two notes played simultaneously makes the brain adapt. Brain scans revealed highly specific changes in the hippocampus, which governs memory and navigation. These correlated with the number of years tuners had been doing this job.
The Wellcome Trust researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of 19 professional piano tuners - who play two notes simultaneously to make them pitch-perfect - and 19 other people. What they saw was highly specific changes in both the grey matter - the nerve cells where information processing takes place - and the white matter - the nerve connections - within the brains of the piano tuners.
Investigator Sundeep Teki said: "We already know that musical training can correlate with structural changes, but our group of professionals offered a rare opportunity to examine the ability of the brain to adapt over time to a very specialised form of listening."
Other researchers have noted similar hippocampal changes in taxi drivers as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London's labyrinth of streets.
Prof Tim Griffiths, who led the latest study, published in Neuroscience, said: "There has been little work on the role of the hippocampus in auditory analysis. Our study is consistent with a form of navigation in pitch space as opposed to the more accepted role in spatial navigation."

Source  - BBC

Healthy lifestyle 'just as good as drugs' for high blood pressure

Exercising regularly, keeping weight down, drinking in moderation and eating plenty of vegetables can cut the chances of developing high blood pressure by two thirds, say researchers.

The impact of these measures on high blood pressure was much bigger than expected, a study found, and  in some cases could even be just as effective a way to treat sufferers as prescribing drugs. Just walking to work and restricting alcohol to two drinks a day can ‘reduce the risk markedly’, according to the study of more than 20,000 people. Every day there are 350 preventable strokes or heart attacks in the UK caused by high blood pressure.

In developed countries such as the UK, the lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure is now 90 per cent, and six million Britons take drugs to control it. People with hypertension – the medical term for high blood pressure – are already routinely advised to make the lifestyle changes highlighted in the study but the effect far surpassed expectations.

The Finnish study followed 9,637 men and 11,430 women aged 25 to 74 who did not have hypertension.

Source  - Daily Mail

Getting lost in a good book can help keep you healthy

Reading is good for you. I  would say that, of course. I’m  a novelist – I’ve written five books for teenagers – and it’s obviously in my interest to encourage people to read.
But there’s increasing evidence that reading for pleasure isn’t just another leisure pursuit, or merely a  way of improving literacy skills and factual knowledge. It might actually be good for our mental and physical health too.
In an age of Twitter and  short attention spans, reading novels – which requires intense concentration over a long period of time – could be the antidote. Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield says that reading helps to lengthen attention spans in children and improves their ability to think clearly.
‘Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end – a structure that  encourages our brains to think in sequence, to link cause, effect and significance,’  she says.  ‘It is essential to learn this skill as a small child, while the brain has more plasticity, which is why it’s so important for parents to read to their children. The more we do it, the better we get at it.’

Source  - Daily Mail

Even light drinking increases cancer risk

Just one alcoholic drink a day may increase the risk of cancer, according to a new study, which estimates that light drinking is responsible for 34,000 deaths a year worldwide.

New research based on more than 150,000 men and women shows that light drinking increases the likelihood of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus and breast. One drink a day increased the risk of cancer of the oesophagus by almost a third, according to the study being reported in the Annals of Oncology, which analysed data from more than 200 research projects. Low alcohol intake increased the risk of oral cavity and pharynx cancer by 17 per cent, and breast cancer in women by 5 per cent.
"Alcohol increases the risk of cancer even at low doses," say the researchers. "Given the high proportion of light drinkers in the population, and the high prevalence of these tumours, especially of breast cancer, even small increases in cancer risk are of great public health relevance."
When it comes to enjoying your favourite drink and looking after your health, advice has often been complicated. Evidence suggests that drinking in moderation may decrease the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and dementia, leading many to believe a glass of wine a day is good for you.

Source  - Independent

Echinacea could trigger allergies in children under 12

Herbal remedies containing echinacea used to combat colds and flu should not be taken by children under 12, the UK’s drugs watchdog has warned.
Young children are at risk of allergic reactions including life-threatening anaphylactic shock, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
It advised parents and carers not to use oral herbal products containing echinacea for children under 12.
Manufacturers will have to label products with safety warnings in future. The move by the MHRA follows precautionary advice from European and UK herbal medicine advisers that the perceived benefits of echinacea in young children are outweighed by the potential risks.

Source  - Daily Mail

Green tea extract 'eradicates skin cancer

A chemical found in green tea has been used to treat two types of skin cancer, scientists say.
The extract is too weak to make an impact when consumed in tea. However, when applied to cancer cells in the lab it made two-thirds of tumours shrink or disappear.
Scientists at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, who carried out the research, found the extract, known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), had no side-effects on other cells or tissue.
They created a cell with EGCg and transferrin, a protein that naturally targets and latches on to the surface of cancer cells, and applied it to tumours. Tests were done on two types of skin cancer: epidermoid carcinoma which forms scales on the surface of the skin and melanoma which often develops in people who have moles on their skin.
In both studies, 40 per cent of tumours vanished, while 30 per cent of tumours in carcinoma cases and 20 per cent in melanoma cases shrank. A further 10 per cent of melanoma tumours were stabilised, so did not grow or shrink.
Around 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year, with the majority women, according to the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.

Source  - Daily Mail

Ditch healthy berries to beat muscle pain

When I wrote in the Daily Mail about how I’d overcome fibromyalgia, the response from readers was overwhelming.
Clearly, many people, like me, have been floored by the condition — and the lack of effective treatment — and were anxious for more details. Unfortunately, no one really knows what causes fibromyalgia and there’s no cure.  Treatments such as painkillers rarely do more than ease the symptoms (characterised by debilitating muscle pain).
Many patients end up giving up work and normal daily life — I longed to retire early from my job as a GP just so I could rest all day.
After two years of misery, my condition was getting worse — but I then came across the theory that fibromyalgia may be linked to oxalates, which are compounds found in ‘healthy’ foods such as fruit, vegetables, salad, nuts and beans.
I cut these out of my diet and overnight my symptoms disappeared — the disabling muscle pains, tingling legs, fatigue and inability to concentrate all went.
But if I ate foods rich in oxalates, the symptoms returned within hours.
Why would this be so?
Oxalates are a kind of ‘natural’ plant pesticide and if the body doesn’t excrete them properly for some reason, it’s possible they accumulate in the muscles, brain and urinary system, causing a range of problems.

Source  - Daily Mail

Broccoli: The new weapon against breast cancer

Women with breast cancer are being given a broccoli-based medicine to see if it suppresses their tumours.
Previous studies have suggested that a compound released after eating broccoli can boost protective enzymes in breast tissue.
Now scientists have harnessed this molecule, sulforaphane, and are giving it to patients newly diagnosed with the disease.
Eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, has long been associated  with a reduced risk of conditions from arthritis to cancer, but the mechanism has remained unclear.
Researchers at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) believe that sulforaphane  can boost the body’s own anti-cancer weapons.
‘Sulforaphane is very important,’ says Dr Maria Traka, of the Norwich-based IFR. ‘The evidence suggests that it helps maintain a healthy balance of antioxidants in the body to counter the effects of dietary, environmental, or other carcinogens. To get the benefits, you would need to eat three or four portions of broccoli a week. Some may find that difficult but, having seen the evidence, my family now eat it three or four times a week.’

Source  - Daily Mail

Why drinking red wine helps keep pensioners steady on their feet

Red wine isn’t usually associated with being steady on your feet.
But a ‘miracle ingredient’ in it could have that effect on pensioners, scientists claim.
They say that resveratrol, which is already credited with a host of health benefits from cutting cholesterol to warding off cancer, boosts balance and improves mobility. In tests, old mice that were given the plant chemical for a few weeks became just as sprightly as young animals. If resveratrol has similar effects on the human body, it could help prevent the painful falls and fractures from which many pensioners struggle to recover.
Falls are one of the leading causes of death in the over-75s, and half of elderly women die within two years of a fall. The US researchers said: ‘Our study suggests that a natural compound like resveratrol, which can be obtained through dietary supplementation or diet itself, could actually decrease some of the motor deficiencies that are seen in our ageing population. That would therefore increase an ageing person’s quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalisation due to slips and falls.’ The researchers, from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, fed resveratrol to young and old mice for eight weeks and regularly tested their ability to walk along a rodent-sized beam.

Source  - Daily Mail

Just two years on Mediterranean diet in mid-life could protect your bones in old age

Swapping to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil could help protect your bones in later life, claim researchers.
Just two years of eating like the Spanish and Italians who use olive oil rather than less healthy fats may preserve or even build bone in older people, says a new study.
The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the classic eating habits of populations from countries in southern Europe, even though fewer inhabitants follow it today.
It has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and 'healthy' fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.
But a new study shows further benefits to bones as people eating more olive oil had higher levels of the hormone osteocalcin in their blood – a marker linked to better bone strength.  Previous studies have shown that Mediterranean countries have lower rates of osteoporosis compared with northern European nations, which could be due to different dietary factors.

Source  - Daily Mail

Walnuts 'improve sperm health'

Eating around two handfuls of walnuts a day improves sperm health in young men, a study in the journal Biology of Reproduction suggests.
Sperm shape, movement and vitality improved in men who added walnuts to their diet over 12 weeks.
The fatty acids found in these nuts are thought to have helped sperm development. It is not known if this would help improve male fertility. About one in six couples are infertile, with 40% of these due to a male factor.
Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield said: "It would be relatively easy to poke fun at studies like this, but there is increasing evidence to show that aspects of a man's diet can affect the number and quality of sperm produced by his testicles."
The researchers say the next step is to work with couples who are attending infertility clinics to determine if placing sub-fertile men, with poor semen quality, on a walnut diet results in better success conceiving.

Source  - BBC

Eating egg yolks is as 'bad as smoking' in speeding up coronary heart disease

Scientists have unscrambled the truth about eggs - eating the yolk is almost as bad as smoking for people at risk of heart disease.
The problem lies in an increased risk of the hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. It is a disorder of the arteries where plaques, aggravated by cholesterol, form on the inner arterial wall. As a key component of a traditional English breakfast, the new findings may not put off egg lovers.
But Dr David Spence revealed eating the yolk of an egg is about two-thirds as bad as smoking when it comes to the build up of plaques.
Having surveyed 1,231 men and women, Dr Spence, of the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, linked the findings to stroke and heart attack risk factors.

Plaque rupture is the usual cause of most heart attacks and many strokes. The study involved patients, with an average age of 61.5, attending vascular prevention clinics in Ontario.

Source  - Daily Mail

Could chocolate stave off dementia?

A daily dose of chocolate could help keep dementia and Alzheimer's at bay, a study suggests.
Researchers found that consuming cocoa every day helped improve mild cognitive impairment – a condition involving memory loss which can progress to dementia or  Alzheimer's – in elderly patients.
For the study, 90 people aged 70 or older  diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were split into three groups of 30 and given either a high, medium or low dose of a  cocoa drink daily. The drink contained flavanols – chemicals associated with a decreased dementia risk which are found in a variety of foods, including cocoa products such as dark chocolate. 

Source  - Daily Mail

Leave the painkillers and just drink water

Next time you have a headache, you might be better off leaving the painkillers in the packet and just drinking a glass of water.

Regularly sipping water can reduce the severity of headaches and migraines, reducing the need for tablets. Scientists found drinking around seven glasses a day was enough to ease pain and improve the quality of life in patients who regularly suffer headaches.
Researchers from the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands, noticed in 2005 that a patient told to drink more for a bladder problem saw his migraines get better. Lead researcher Dr Mark Spigt and his team recruited more than 100 patients who frequently suffered from severe or mild headaches. The team instructed them on how to ease their discomfort, including reducing stress, improving sleep and avoiding caffeine.
But half the patients were also told to drink 1.5 litres of water a day for three months, on top of their normal liquid intake. At the end of the study, patients filled out a questionnaire called the Migraine-Specific Quality of Life index to say how they felt. The results, published in journal Family Practice, showed those drinking extra water scored far higher on the questionnaire.

Source  - Daily Mail 

Yoga can reduce depression in pregnant women

Yoga can reduce depression in pregnant women as well as boost maternal bonding, say researchers.
It is the first study to provide evidence that mindfulness yoga may offer effective treatment for depressed mothers-to-be. Pregnancy hormones are known to cause mood swings, however one in five expectant mothers experience major depression.  Now, new research from the University of Michigan shows that the age-old recommended stress-buster could relieve their symptoms.
Mothers-to-be at high risk of mental health problems found significant relief from depressive symptoms after taking part in a 10-week programme. They also reported stronger attachment to their babies in the womb.
Lead author Maria Muzik said: 'We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress but there’s no data on how effective this method is. Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression. This promotes both mother and baby wellbeing.'

Source  - Daily Mail

How a potato juice supplement could help cure stomach ulcers

Stomach ulcers could have handed in their chips - thanks to the humble potato.
Scientists at Manchester University have discovered spuds contain unique antibacterial molecules that can treat the condition.
Members of the university’s microbiology team now hope the substance, dubbed ‘potato juice’ could go into production as a daily diet supplement.
 Inspiration came as one of the department’s scientists tucked into a spud for Sunday lunch.  It led to the discovery of a key molecule which could both cure and prevent the bacteria that lives in the stomach and causes stomach ulcers and heartburn.
The discovery is one of many being made by scientists at the university as they try to develop the products and medicines of tomorrow.

Source  - Daily Mail

Honey can ease childhood cough

Children aged one to five who were suffering from throat infections coughed less often and slept better after taking 10g of honey before bedtime, researchers reported.
Honey's high levels of antioxidants could make it a better alternative to cough syrups, many of which are not proven to work and which can be dangerous if parents administer accidental overdoses, they wrote in the Pediatrics journal.
The study involved almost 300 Israeli children with throat infections. Three quarters were given a teaspoon of either eucalyptus honey, citrus honey or labiatae honey before bed, while the rest took a placebo.

Source  - Guardian

The power of intermittent fasting

Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits, as well as potentially helping the overweight, as Michael Mosley discovered.
I'd always thought of fasting as something unpleasant, with no obvious long term benefits. So when I was asked to make a documentary that would involve me going without food, I was not keen as I was sure I would not enjoy it.
But the Horizon editor assured me there was great new science and that I might see some dramatic improvements to my body. So, of course, I said, "yes".
I am not strong-willed enough to diet over the long term, but I am extremely interested in the reasons why eating less might lead to increased life span, particularly as scientists think it may be possible to get the benefits without the pain.

 Source  - BBC

Coffee can help control Parkinson's tremors

Coffee can help tame the tremors caused by Parkinson's disease, research has shown.

Scientists gave 61 patients caffeine pills equivalent to drinking two to four cups of coffee a day, or an inactive "dummy" treatment. After six weeks, those taking the caffeine averaged a five-point improvement in symptom severity ratings.
"Studies have shown that people who use caffeine are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, but this is one of the first studies in humans to show that caffeine can help with movement symptoms for people who already have the disease," said lead researcher Dr Ronald Postuma, from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
"This is a modest improvement, but may be enough to provide benefit to patients."
The caffeine group also averaged a three-point improvement in speed of movement and stiffness compared with non-treated patients.
The findings are reported in the online issue of the medical journal Neurology.

Source  - Independent

The one vitamin pill experts say really IS worth taking

Who would have thought that the earth beneath our feet could be to blame for health woes ranging from heart disease to thyroid problems to cancer?
Yet that’s the view of some experts who say levels of selenium, a mineral essential for good health, are so low in British soil that it’s affecting the food chain, our diets and, ultimately, our risk of disease.
The body uses selenium to make ‘selenoproteins’, which work like antioxidants preventing damage to cells.  There is a growing body of evidence to show it has a key role in health.  Just last week, researchers at the University of East Anglia found people who eat large amounts of the mineral, along with vitamins C  and E, are 67 per cent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
Previous research has shown that in old age a good selenium intake helps enhance brain function, so that cognition remains sharp and active. The problem is we are not getting enough.
The richest food sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, kidney, liver and fish, but the foods that make the largest contribution to our selenium intake — because we eat proportionately more of them — are cereals, bread, meat and poultry.
However, because levels of selenium in our soil are low, cattle aren’t absorbing as much when they graze, nor are crops or other fresh produce grown on it.  As a result, there is less selenium available from meat, grains and vegetables.

Source  - Daily Mail