Genes found for deadly heart condition

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Image caption Scientists looked at the genes of people with pulmonary arterial hypertension to find out what was causing the condition

Scientists say they have identified genes that cause a deadly heart condition that can only be cured by transplants of the heart or lungs.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension kills 50% of those affected within five years, but little was known about what caused the condition in some people.

Now experts say they have discovered five genes that cause the illness.

The findings could lead to earlier detection of the disease and ultimately new treatments, researchers say.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) currently affects around 6,500 people in the UK and causes the arteries carrying blood from the heart to their lungs to stiffen and thicken, ultimately leading to heart failure.

It is often diagnosed in people who have other heart or lung conditions, but it can affect people of any age and in about a fifth of people there is no obvious cause.

The only “cure” is a transplant of the heart and particularly the lungs, but there is a waiting list for organ transplants and the body will often ultimately reject them, particularly in the case of lungs.

For this latest research, published in Nature Communications, scientists carried out the largest ever genetic study of the disease by analysing the genomes – the unique sequence of a person’s DNA – of more than 1,000 PAH patients for whom the cause of the illness was unknown.

They found that mutations in five genes were responsible for causing the illness in these people, including in four genes that were not previously known to be involved in the disease.

In people with the condition these genes fail to effectively produce the proteins that are required for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues, researchers found.

Nick Morell, the lead author of the paper and professor at the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News: “Identifying the nature of these new genes and mutations in the new genes tells you what causes the disease.

“It allows you to design and come up with potential new ways of treating the disease because you have really well-grounded knowledge about what’s actually causing it in cases where you find these mutations,” he explained.

‘People should be more aware’

Image caption Wendy Callaghan was diagnosed with the condition five years ago

Wendy Callaghan, from west London, was diagnosed with PAH in 2013 after doctors became concerned about her persistent chest infection.

Her sister died from the condition 27 years ago at the age of 36, and her grandmother also died from a similar heart condition.

Wendy, who participated in the trial, has been told she has the genetic version of the illness and is now waiting to learn if her daughters and grandchildren have inherited the same deadly condition.

The 58-year-old said: “Even children can get it. People should be more aware of it and look out for the signs and persist with it if they think their child is not well.

“Especially as it does run in families, some people if they don’t know they’ve got it could be passing those genes on to the next generation,” Wendy added.

The research was part of a pilot study for the 100,000 Genomes Project – a huge initiative focused on understanding the genetics of cancer and rare diseases.

Prof Morell said such genetic studies were helping to transform our understanding of rare diseases.

He said: “Often people with rare diseases go to lots of different specialists, everybody is scratching their head a bit, we don’t know what the cause is, therefore it’s hard to find a treatment for it.

“Now being able to [genetically] sequence people with rare diseases at scale allows you to push the genetics into the clinic and into the families, and it also gives you a cause for the disease which you can potentially do something about,” he said.

Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, who was not involved in the study, said the research was “one of the big successes” of the 100,000 Genome Project.

He said: “By studying the role of rare genetic variation in diseases, we come to a better understanding of the disease pathology itself, which can aid in early diagnosis and in tailoring treatment regimes.”

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Lorde Faces Backlash After Using Whitney Houston Lyrics For Bathtub Picture

Lorde is really regretting the song lyrics she wrote in the caption of an Instagram gone wrong.  

The “Green Light” singer faced backlash on Thursday night after she posted a picture of her filling bathtub and added Whitney Houston lyrics as the caption. 

“And iiii will always love you,” she wrote, referencing the late singer’s famous cover song.

Houston died at age 48 in 2012, accidentally drowning in a bathtub with additional complications of heart disease and cocaine use. Three years later, Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, 22, was found unresponsive in a bathtub, and died six months later. 

Social media users called out Lorde for her post, demanding that she take it down immediately. The hashtag #LordeIsOverParty quickly gained traction. 

“Lorde has ended her career via Instagram,” one Twitter user wrote. Others added, “This is disgusting,” and “lorde is cancelled thank u thats all.” 

Some people defended Lorde, saying her post was likely an oversight not meant as an intentional offense: 

The singer later removed her bathtub post and posted an apology on her Instagram story. 

″“Extremely extremely poorly chosen quote. I’m so sorry for offending anyone — I hadn’t even put this together I was just excited to take a bath,” she said. “I’m an idiot. Love Whitney forever and ever. Sorry again.” 

She followed that apology with another post, writing “It is not my fkn day today” with three emojis: 


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Telomeres Are the New Cholesterol. Now What?

“I am a bit concerned about your telomeres,” the doctor told me, evenly. Telomeres are the caplike segments at the ends of the strands of DNA that make up your chromosomes—think of the plastic aglets at the ends of a shoelace—and some of mine, he could see, were not as long as he would have liked them to be.

Fifteen years ago, geneticists at the University of Utah published the results of a small test with the following finding: People older than 60 with short telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease. It’s complicated, but essentially shorter telomeres make it more difficult for your cells to split and replicate, which can lead to diseased tissue, which, in turn, can lead to all manner of health problems. Other researchers have cautioned that larger, longitudinal studies are necessary before telomere length can be firmly established as a key indicator of aging. Still, at the edge of modern medicine, where the doctor I was seeing, Joseph Raffaele, practices, the length of your telomeres has become a key indicator, or what he calls a biomarker, of how well you’re aging. Raffaele talks of telomeres as a sort of “biological 401(k)”—molecular-­level security with which to fend off the health challenges of getting old.

Raffaele hadn’t literally seen those telomeres of mine. What he’d seen were the results of blood work carried out by a lab called Repeat Diagnostics, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has become a leader in the burgeoning field of telomere diagnostics. Burgeoning because, as Raffaele posits, “telomeres are the new cholesterol”—by which he means they are (A) something measurable and understood to have explanatory powers and (B) something Big Pharma can aim at in the hope of finding the equivalent of a statin to make them more robust.

Everyone’s telomeres shorten over time, and a lot of mine were fine enough, but the ones found in a type of cell called granulocytes were really short: bottom 10 percent for my age. Not good, should some serious disease come calling.

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Nik Mirus

I was, chronologically, about to turn 65, as the day’s mail—Medicare enrollment forms, Social Security statements, brochures for cemetery plots—regularly reminded me. But Raffaele has staked his practice and his reputation on the belief that an individual’s muscles, organs, and bodily systems tend to age physiologically at different rates. You might have been born in 1958, and your cardio­vascular system might be that of a 60-year-old, but your lungs could be more like those of a 50-year-old and your immune system that of someone in their early seventies. Raffaele is a practitioner of age-management medicine, and he assesses several dozen biomarkers—things like telomeres and arterial stiffness—in order to assess patients and assign them a different so-called Immuno­Age, CardioAge, TelomerAge, NeuroAge, CutoAge, and PulmoAge.

In truth, medicine has not yet reached a consensus on how aging comes about, much less Pulmo­Aging. Growing old is one of the most complex biological processes. The mystery of how it works has, if anything, only grown more elusive as our sense of the physical self extends to include our genes, our microbiomes, our stresses. Moreover, Raffaele’s embrace of biomarkers for aging is not universally accepted. The National Institute on Aging concluded, after 10 years of trying to establish a set of such biomarkers, that none of them could be scientifically validated.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of age-­management practitioners worldwide. Raffaele’s own practice licenses its PhysioAge technology and protocols to scores of physicians. He and other age-­management physicians are experimenters, and their patients—who tend to be affluent, as out-of-pocket costs can run to more than $5,000 a year—are willing to experiment along with them. Raffaele doesn’t promise that his patients will live longer, necessarily—that’s a big ask—but he suggests they could live out their last years better, spending less time immobile, pained, and befogged.

I wanted this, for sure, but I was also seeking something else: to better understand my aging identity, not only in terms of my mind’s involutions and attachments but no less crucially through the corporeal expressions of my organs, muscles, systems, and cells. This side of age-management medicine draws on the tools of molecular diagnostics, imaging, and data analytics. What has been my embodied life arc? Who am I, deep inside? And why?

The length of certain telomeres, Raffaele explained, not only tends to correlate with the healthiness of various organ systems; it “gives a history of all the assaults a person has been subject to over the course of her lifetime.” Hearing this, my mind drifted to the blockage from my stomach to my intestines that nearly killed me as a 6-week-old, as my mother regularly reminded me until her death two years ago; and then moved on to scarlet fever, which, when I contracted it as a 7-year-old, kept me quarantined for nearly two months and thus, in its way, determined what I would devote my life to: reading. Such are my memories. Were those short telomeres molecular memories?

It turns out that biological self-­knowledge is not easy even with a trail of biomarkers. Telomere shortening is often a result of chronic or acute inflammation, research suggests, but my inflammation was lower than average, according to another test Raffaele had analyzed. Stress? Not a problem—at least now, in semiretirement. My cortisol level (another lab test) was “optimal.” Still, when my data was analyzed in Raffaele’s system, I had the ImmunoAge of a 71-year-old. “I’m going to say it’s genetic,” Raffaele told me. Despite the efforts I made to eat right and exercise, my disease-fending self was old before its time.

Raffaele, 58, was trained as an internist. He was practicing in New Hampshire in the 1990s when his parents began showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and he was struck by how little he could do for them. Could there be preventive care with regard to aging?

Since then Raffaele has become one of the more outspoken proponents of evaluating biomarkers for physiological age. He was spurred, he said, by a remark from Robert Butler, the founding director of the National Institute on Aging and, until his death in 2010, arguably the country’s most prominent aging expert. Butler pointed out to Raffaele that conventional medicine had established multiple ways of measuring vital signs, like blood pressure, and setting them against baselines of a broader public. What, Butler wanted to know, was Raffaele using to determine a valid baseline? How did he know his therapies were working? “I went searching for the biomarkers of aging,” Raffaele says.

Biomarkers themselves are nothing new in medicine. When a series of tests over time reveals a rapidly rising presence of prostate-specific antigen in a man’s blood, it’s a valid indicator that he may be developing prostate cancer. But aging is far less specific than prostate cancer. And the search for its biomarkers is in its infancy, with no generally agreed upon number of biomarkers or standards for measurement among the practitioners of age-­management medicine. Raffaele’s system is proprietary and thus can’t be scrutinized, but he will say that he draws on large databases of patients who have taken his baseline exam, along with larger databases provided by the companies that do the blood testing and whose machines he uses for scanning. He also monitors the change over time in biomarkers he assesses. If my telomeres were to be no shorter 10 years from now, for instance, then they’d no longer be much of a concern.

My exam at Raffaele’s office began with a pretty typical form on which I filled in my medical history and recorded my diet and exercise habits. Next, I sat one morning for an hour at home, taking a series of neurological tests on my laptop: the CNS Vital Signs tests, which evaluate the main areas of cognitive function by taxing them relentlessly for 20 minutes; the Stroop test, which measures reaction time; and the Symbol Digit Coding test, to test the aging of the frontal lobes of the brain.

A week or so later, I showed up at the offices on Central Park South in New York: small but elegant, with walls of pale bamboo and a certain hush. I was the only patient there. Raffaele was off at a conference. I was led to a small room, where I was seated in a recliner and a technician drew eight full vials and a half-dozen half-vials of blood. It took a while. Then, after measuring my height and weight and taking my blood pressure, the technician walked me from one machine to the next, scanning, among other things, my carotid and other arteries (with an ultrasound imaging gadget) and obtaining a snapshot of my body fat and muscle distribution with an InBody body-composition-analysis device. It was painless and done in 20 minutes. It was, too, all but completely lacking in those small but psychically significant reassurances we expect from a physical examination. If this is the physical of the future, we are going to have to accustom ourselves to the indifferent graze of whirring, chirping machines.

Raffaele shook my hand when we met, a month after the office visit. Then he settled behind his desk and powered up a touchscreen computer. No lab coat, no stethoscope dangling from his neck: He wore a trim suit with a lavender tie and looked a good deal younger than 58.

There was good news as he walked me through his analysis. I’d entered my sixties training to become a serious senior tennis player, so it didn’t surprise me that my resting heart rate was “athletic,” my arteries were clear of plaque, and my resulting CardioAge was 43. My NeuroAge (processing speed) was “younger” than my chronological age, too.

But the short telomeres in my granulocytes cast a shadow. And then my PulmoAge turned out to be … 81! Really? I ran around a tennis court and regularly did interval sprints. Spirometry, which measures how much and how quickly you exhale, told a different story, however. Raffaele didn’t seem too worried. I had a small rib cage, which meant smaller lungs, he said. “Keep up the interval training.”

My overall PhysioAge, as he computed it, was 61. “You’re in good shape,” he said. But there was room for improvement. I needed to keep up the exercise and healthy diet. I should take vitamin D-3, he advised, to bolster my immune system. I might also consider human-growth-hormone therapy. “Hormone optimization,” as Raffaele put it, plays an important role in his practice. Raffaele himself has for 20 years been taking HGH, testosterone, thyroid hormone, and DHEA. There have been warnings about side effects of hormone therapies—from muscle and joint pain to the exacerbation of cardiac problems—but research to gauge the long-term benefits or risks of such therapies has been inconclusive so far.

The short telomeres in my granulocytes cast a shadow. And my PulmoAge turned out to be … 81!

So, being 61 PhysioAge-wise: Was it any different than being 65? It wasn’t. I did start to worry about the telomeres and my immune system. I’ve been surprised at how many of my friends seem to know about telomeres and seem concerned when I mention my shortened ones. Telomeres, in that sense, are the new cholesterol. I worried, too, that all this testing could be seen as a supreme act of vanity: A guy in good shape for his age dropping thousands of dollars on tests out of curiosity while much of his cohort nationwide struggles with hypertension and diseases like diabetes.

But who we are, physically, is a significant measure of our identity. And I suspect that science will reveal this more exactingly and profoundly in the years to come. Cicero thought that the body’s decline over time was a blessing in its way, leaving more time for learning and reflection by those truer aspects of ourselves, the mind and soul. That view is being challenged. The health of the mind (science doesn’t speak to the soul) may well depend to no small extent on genes and molecules in your gut that Cicero could not have imagined the existence of.

As those molecules become more measurable, and as the meaning behind their signals becomes clearer, it’s worth considering just how much self-knowledge we want. Do you want to know about your own shortened telomeres? Or worse, about some gene mutation, say, that suggests you have a better than even chance of developing an untreatable disease?

If you’re like me, you want to know everything: To comprehend is to live. The smalling down on the path to death is a diminishment that’s never been easy to navigate. It could be made less physically challenging by the kind of diagnostics and treatment Raffaele and others like him are working toward. But knowing yourself, never uncomplicated, is likely to get no less fraught. Just deeper.

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Wii Bowling's Golden YearsThe Testosterone MythHow to Live ForeverDesigning the FutureAging on DemandThe Liquefied BurialSolving Health Issues at All Stages

Gerald Marzorati is a former editor of The New York Times Magazine and author of Late to the Ball: A Journey into Tennis and Aging.

This article appears in the April issue. Subscribe now.

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Buying Viagra: What you should know

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Men can now buy the impotence pill Viagra Connect without a prescription at some UK pharmacies.

Health experts hope it will mean more men get help for erectile dysfunction – a condition thought to affect up to one in five adult men, 4.3 million in the UK.

Like any medication though, the drug can cause side-effects and should not be misused or abused.

What should men consider before buying and trying the little blue pills?

Who can have it?

Viagra Connect is only for men who have impotence.

No-one under the age of 18 can buy it, although women might be able to buy it on behalf of their partner if the pharmacist is satisfied it is appropriate to dispense it.

And it will not be sold to men who are not medically fit enough to have sex. This includes men with severe heart or blood vessel problems.

As a rule of thumb, men who become very breathless or experience chest pain when doing light exercise, such as climbing two flights of stairs, should not take these pills.

Can it be bought off the shelf?

No. You will need to ask the pharmacist for it, who will then check it is safe for you to take.

A packet of four pills will cost £19.99.

Do men wanting to buy have to talk to someone and be examined?

You can ask at the pharmacy counter for a quiet word or to have a conversation in a private room if they prefer – most pharmacies now have private consultation facilities.

The pharmacist will ask about symptoms, general health, and any other medications you might be taking. They should not ask personal questions about your sex life or sexual preferences.

You should not need a physical examination.

Will it work?

In many cases yes, but it is not effective for everyone.

The drug relaxes the blood vessels in the penis to help blood flow and will help achieve an erection in response to sexual stimulation.

It can be taken with or without food, although it may take a little longer to start working if you have just had a big meal.

You should take it about an hour before you plan to have sex.

Do not take it with grapefruit or grapefruit juice, because this can affect how the medicine works.

And do not take more than one 50mg tablet per day.

If it has been some time since you were able to get or keep an erection, it may take a couple of attempts before you are able to achieve one.

Drinking lots of alcohol can also make it more difficult to get an erection.

What if it is too strong?

Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you think it is too strong – the drug’s effects last too long or are too powerful.

Prolonged and sometimes painful erections lasting longer than four hours have been occasionally reported by men taking the drug.

Although unlikely, if this does happen, seek immediate medical assistance.

What other side-effects might there be?

Very common (may affect more than one in 10 people):

  • headache

Common (may affect up to one in 10):

  • dizziness
  • colour tinge to vision or blurred vision – some people start seeing a blue hue
  • hot flushes
  • blocked nose
  • nausea

Stop taking the pills and seek immediate medical attention if you have a serious side-effect such as:

  • chest pain
  • sudden decrease or loss of vision
  • an allergic reaction (eg difficulty breathing, wheeze and swelling of the lips, eyelids or face)
  • a seizure or fit

Drug clashes

People on nitrate pills for angina should not take Viagra Connect. That also goes for people taking recreational poppers (amyl nitrite).

There is also a clash with a medicine called riociguat and an HIV medication called ritonavir.

Make sure you tell the pharmacists about any treatments you are taking so they can check it will be safe for you to also have Viagra Connect.

Pharmacists should advise men to book a follow-up appointment with their doctor within six months of starting on Viagra Connect because erectile dysfunction can sometimes be a sign of other underlying conditions, including heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Can I get it anywhere else?

GPs can prescribe it. And some pharmacies will be selling it online, after a virtual consultation.

Always check that the seller is reputable. Drugs from unregulated sellers may be fake, ineffective and unsafe.

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Some Chinese ready meals found to have more salt than 11 bags of crisps

Some takeaway dishes contain as much salt as five Big Macs with ready meals also high in salt

Chinese takeaways and ready meals should carry compulsory health warning labels on menus and packaging to alert consumers to astonishing and harmful salt levels, UK health experts have recommended.

The worst-offending Chinese takeaway dishes in a survey published on Tuesday by Action on Salt were found to contain as much salt as five McDonalds Big Macs, while many had more than half an adults entire daily allowance.

Supermarket Chinese ready meals were also laden with salt, with some containing more than the amount found in two Pizza Express margherita pizzas, the report reveals. Some rice dishes contained more salt than 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

Action on Salt is leading a group of health experts in calling on Public Health England to set tough new salt targets, make front-of-pack labelling mandatory and to follow New Yorks lead by requiring chains to put warning labels on high-salt dishes. They are also urging the food industry and restaurants to reduce salt by reformulating takeaways and ready meals.

Of 141 supermarket Chinese ready meals analysed, nearly half (43%) were high in salt containing more than 1.5g/100g, or 1.8g per portion which would trigger a red traffic light label.

Chines food graphic.

Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year, said Graham MacGregor, the chairman of Action on Salt and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London.

Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease. We are now calling on Public Health England to take immediate action.

Accompanying rice dishes, spring rolls and prawn crackers and soy sauce can pile on the salt in a Chinese meal. Icelands takeaway egg fried rice has a shocking 4.1g salt per 350g pack more than in 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

Dishes from six Chinese restaurants were also analysed, with 97% found to contain 2g of salt or more. More than half (58%) contained in excess of 3g of salt per dish half an adults maximum recommended daily intake.

At the start of salt awareness week, Action on Salt is calling on Public Health England to revive the UKs salt reduction programme. The last set of salt targets drawn up under the Department of Healths responsibility deal was published in 2014.

The findings from the survey are very concerning, said Hemini Bharadia of Blood Pressure UK. We are all eating too much salt. This can lead to high blood pressure causing strokes and heart attacks, most of which could be avoided through better lifestyle choices.

Quick guide

Processed foods

These are some of the UKs best-selling ultra-processed foods

Mr Kipling Angel slices

Batchelors Super Noodles

McVities digestive biscuits

Kelloggs Rice Krispies

Walkers cheese and onion crisps

Cadburys Crunchie

Haribo sweets

These are the ingredients in Mr Kipling Angel slices

SugarListed first, so it is the biggest ingredient. Each slice contains 13.2g of sugar, which is 15% of an adults recommended daily intake

Vegetable oils (rapeseed, palm)Rapeseed oil is healthy, but palm oil is a highly saturated fat, widely used in industrially-produced foods because of its very low cost

Wheat flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin) Added vitamins but this is finely milled white flour


Glucose syrupAnother form of sugar, made from maize in the USA, where it is called corn syrup, or from potatoes and wheat

Humectant (vegetable glycerine) Reduces moisture loss

DextroseAnother form of sugar

Dried egg white

Whey powder (milk)Gives texture

Vegetable fat (palm) Cheap form of saturated fat

Maize starchOften used as an anti-caking agent in sugars

Skimmed milk powder

Raising agents (disodium diphosphate, sodium bicarbonate)

Emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, sorbitan monostearate, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, soya lecithin, polysorbate 60)Emulsifiers are additives used to stabilise processed foods

Tapioca starchThickening agent derived from cassava roots


Stabiliser (xanthan gum)Made from fermented sugars. Prevents ingredients from separating

Preservative (potassium sorbate)

Milk proteinCan be used in industrially-made sponge cakes to replace egg, giving volume, elasticity and texture


Gelling agent (sodium alginate) This is E401, extracted from brown seaweed and used as a stabiliser in cream

Colours (titanium dioxide, cochineal, lutein) Titanium dioxide is an additive used in paint but also massively in food to give a white colour. Cochineal is the red colouring derived from insects. Lutein is yellow colouring extracted from marigolds

Acid (acetic acid)A leavening ingredient in baked goods when combined with baking soda

Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: Our salt consumption has decreased over the last decade a loaf of bread has 40% less than it used to. However, some products are still too high in salt and we know this can be reduced further.

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Chinese takeaway can bust salt intake

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Chinese takeaway meals from restaurants and supermarkets should carry health warnings because they are often high in salt, a campaign group says.

Action on Salt analysed more than 150 dishes and found some contained half an adult’s recommended 6g (0.2oz) daily allowance of salt.

Main courses, such as beef in black bean sauce, topped the salty list.

But adding a serving of egg fried rice to your order could deliver anything between an extra 5.3g and 2.3g of salt.

While adding side dishes and dipping sauces to your meal could provide nearly another 4g salt per person, the findings reveal.

Few of the takeaway restaurant dishes came in at under 2g of salt.

Prawn crackers and vegetable spring rolls ranged from 0.8g to 1.4g of salt per portion.

Image copyright Getty Images

Supermarket-bought Chinese meals varied widely in salt content.

Spare ribs and crispy aromatic duck were towards the bottom of the list, while saucy rice or noodle-based dishes were higher up.

Image copyright Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, soy sauce, which tastes salty, contains more salt than some other dipping sauces, but sweet ones, such as chilli sauce or plum sauce, may also contain lots.

Checking the nutritional values on food packaging can help you check how much salt you will be eating.

Of the 141 ready meals analysed, 43% were high in salt, meaning they would typically carry a red notification label on the pack.

Image copyright Getty Images

Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Most of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods, rather than added at the table.

Public Health England has been encouraging the food industry to cut salt levels in food.

PHE’s chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: “A loaf of bread has 40% less than it used to.

“However, some products are still too high in salt and we know this can be reduced further.

“We’ve been very clear with the food industry on the importance of meeting the 2017 salt targets.

“We’ll report on their progress this year and on any necessary advice to government on the next steps.”

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Google Has Just Developed A Way To Predict Your Risk Of A Heart Attack By Scanning Your Eye

A new system created by Verily and Google AI researchers can use photographs of the retina to predict risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The system works about as well as presently used predictive methods and is far less invasive.

In a recent study, researchers could see what the artificial intelligence software was paying attention to as it studied the eye.

Your eyes might be the perfect windows into your heart.

At least, they’re windows that Google-created artificial intelligence software can use to calculate your risk factors for heart disease.

According to a study recently published in the Nature Biomedical Engineering journal, an AI algorithm created by Google AI and Verily Life Sciences (an Alphabet subsidiary that spun off from Google) can predict whether a patient is likely to suffer a major cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke within five years, based on a photo of their retina.

So far, the predictions work about as well as presently accepted methods that are more invasive, according to the study.

Learning to predict heart disease

The fact that disease can be spotted in the retina isn’t a surprise. Doctors often spot medical conditions including diabetes, extreme high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and some cancers during eye exams.

To mimic that ability, the Verily and Google researchers trained AI software to identify cardiovascular risks by having the system analyze retina photos and health data from 284,335 patients. Specifically, it looked at retinal fundus images — photos that show blood vessels in the eye.

The retina fundus photographs that the AI software uses to asses cardiovascular disease risk. Poplin et al., Biomedical Engineering, 2018

Known risk factors for cardiovascular disease include age, blood pressure, and gender, among other things. Based on an eye scan, the algorithm was able to predict a person’s age to within 3.26 years, smoking status with 71% accuracy, and blood pressure within 11 units of the upper number reported in their measurement.

Because the algorithm was so effective at assessing these factors, the researchers decided to see how well it could predict actual strokes and heart attacks.

They used data from a set of 150 patients that had suffered major cardiovascular events within five years of their eye scan. (That data set included 12,026 people, but only several hundred experienced a major cardiac health event, with clinical data available for 150 of those patients.) When the researchers presented the algorithm with two retina images and asked it to predict which one would suffer a major cardiac event or stroke, it predicted the correct scan 70% of the time.

By comparison, the European SCORE risk calculator, which requires a blood test, is currently used to predict risk for cardiovascular disease. That calculator predicted the correct scan in 72% of the cases from the same dataset, which is not much better than the AI performance — and the AI did just as well when it had access to demographic information like age, gender, and BMI.

A powerful demonstration

From images like this, the researchers were able to identify what exactly the AI was paying attention to while assessing risk. Poplin et al., Biomedical Engineering, 2018

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. Because of that, the idea that a routine retina scan could provide an early warning of heightened risk — hopefully in time to change behavior — is exciting.

The new study suggests there is more information available in the retina than scientists previously realized. The AI system is particularly exciting because it takes medical images that might already exist and gets new and potentially important data from them. And that information can be gathered and used without invasive tests.

Researchers involved in the study were also able to track which factors the algorithm was relying on to make its predictions, since the system created heat-maps of areas it focused on. In this case, the researchers know the system was paying particular attention to blood vessels to calculate blood pressure, for example.

Such information isn’t always available in machine learning processes. But in this case, it can help scientists better understand the wealth of data that’s available in retina images in the first place.

Overall, this new study highlights the ways that deep learning is transforming how scientists study the body. Machine learning can even take scans that we already have and use them to generate a far more complete picture of human health.

Still, as promising as these results seem, they are preliminary, according to a blog post by Dr. Michael McConnell, the Head of Cardiovascular Health Innovations at Verily.

“[M]ore work must be done to develop and validate these findings on larger patient cohorts before this can arrive in a clinical setting,” McConnell wrote.

Read the original article on Business Insider. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2017.

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Where is the worlds noisiest city?

The ignored pollutant can cause depression, stress, diabetes and heart attacks. What are cities doing to curb excess noise?

The constant roar of traffic, incessant construction noise, piercing sirens, honking horns, shrieking loudspeakers noise in cities is clearly a nuisance.

But its also a danger. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described noise pollution as an underestimated threat that can cause hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, cognitive impairment, stress and depression. Some experts go further: they believe exposure to environmental noise could be slowly killing us.

Noise pollution causes hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, strokes and death, says Dr Daniel Fink, chairman of the Quiet Coalition, a community of health and legal professionals concerned with the adverse impacts of environmental noise.

Noise pollution is often cited as one of the main factors in the reduced quality of life in large, 24-hour cities like New York (where more than 200,000 noise complaints were recorded in 2016). It causes stress, which has its own adverse effects on health.

While the impact of noise on mental health has not been studied extensively, research has shown that strong noise annoyance is associated with a twofold higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in the general population.

A recent study by experts at the American College of Cardiology linked noise pollution to increased cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, coronary heart disease) through the bodys stress mediated response resulting in the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn damages blood vessels.

At a conference on noise organised by the European commission in April 2017, noise was regarded as the silent killer, with potentially severe consequences for our physical and mental health. And yet its impacts remain unreported and underestimated.

Worst offenders

Dr Eoin King, assistant professor of acoustics and author of the book Environmental Noise Pollution, calls noise the ignored pollutant. Environmental noise still continues to be poorly understood by practitioners, policymakers and the general public, he says.

Most worrying, says King, is the impact on children. Studies considering the effect that noise may have on children have found that tasks such as reading, attention span, problem-solving and memory appear to be most affected by exposure to noise.

The issue is compounded by debate over how much noise it is safe to be exposed to. In its Make Listening Safe guide, WHO states that 85 decibels is considered the highest safe exposure level, up to a maximum of eight hours. However, others Fink among them argue this is still too loud.

A car measures 70 decibels, a jackhammer 100, and a plane taking off 120, according to the WHO. Though there is no set threshold to establish risk, we do know that anything above 60 decibels can increase risk for heart disease, Dr Thomas Mnzel, from the Mainz University Medical Centre, has said.

A recent report by the BBC found that parts of the London Underground were loud enough to damage peoples hearing, with noise levels greater than 105 decibels on many lines. The report stated that some were so loud they would require hearing protection if they were workplaces.

Guangzhou has been ranked as having the worse levels of noise pollution in the world Photograph: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Concerned about increased risk of hearing loss in cities, last year Mimi Hearing Technologies created a World Hearing Index to draw attention to the issue. With the results of hearing tests of 200,000 of their users worldwide and data on noise pollution from WHO and Sintef, a Norwegian research organisation, the index plotted levels of noise pollution and hearing loss in 50 cities.

The study found that, on average, a person living in the loudest cities has hearing loss equivalent to that of someone 10-20 years older. Overall the results showed a 64% correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution.

Guangzhou, China, ranked as having the worse levels of noise pollution in the world, followed by Cairo, Paris, Beijing and Delhi. Of the 50 cities, Zurich was found to have the least noise pollution.

Participants in Delhi recorded the highest average hearing loss equivalent to someone 19.34 years older than them. Vienna had the lowest hearing loss but still, on average, that of someone 10.59 years older.

We were able to collect quite a unique hearing data warehouse on hearing abilities across countries and continents, says Henrik Matthies, managing director of Mimi Hearing Technologies. There is an obvious known correlation between being exposed to noise and decreased hearing ability.

However, mapping this correlation to cities helped us to get the message out, sparking a debate about noise pollution and hearing in megacities like Hong Kong and Delhi.

But what can be done about it?

Political will

The EU are probably the world leaders at setting out a process to tackle noise pollution, says King. In 2002, it issued an environmental noise directive that requires member states to map noise exposure in urban areas holding upwards of 100,000 people, to develop noise abatement action plans in these areas and to preserve quiet areas.

Action plans usually incorporate a variety of measures such as traffic management strategies, promoting light rail systems and electric buses, reduced speed limits, introducing noise barriers and improved planning processes.

But good intentions only go so far. The problem is that there is no real enforcement associated with these action plans, says King. Until there is more of a political will to drive planning decision related to noise, I dont think much will change.

With road traffic by far the largest source of noise pollution in Europe, affecting an estimated 100 million Europeans, concepts like Pariss car-free day could have an impact. For one day every month in the French capital, 30% of the city becomes off limits to vehicles. The project has seen sound levels in the city centre drop by half.

The most effective way to control noise is at the source. If we could make planes, trains and cars quieter we would solve a lot of our problems, says King. If all vehicles in a city street were electric, noise would be significantly reduced.

Increasingly citizens can also do their bit to monitor noise pollution in cities by transforming their smartphones into sound level meters.

The NoiseTube app, developed by researchers at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, enables users to record where and at what times decibel levels are highest to produce a detailed noise map of the city. Councils can use the data to target noise pollution more effectively, using sound absorbent materials such as foam and fibreglass precisely where they are needed most.

King says there are many such projects looking to harness the potential of big data in the fight against noise for example, noise complaint data, or social media chatter related to noise, to better assess public sentiments towards soundscapes. There is a lot going on which I suppose gives us some hope.

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There’s Very Little (Convincing) Proof That Standing Desks Are Actually Good For You

A wealth of scientific research shows us that regularly sitting for long stretches of time has severe consequences for both mental and physical health –and yet computer-based, industrial societies make it extremely difficult to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

One recently proposed solution to our epidemic of inactivity is to switch from a standard to a standing desk at work; thus boosting activity during the 40 hours a week that adults with office jobs would otherwise spend sitting. Word-of-mouth and marketing campaigns – backed up by very few strong academic studies – have asserted that this set-up can boost productivity and benefit long-term health.

Now, a small study from Australia is challenging the perceived superiority of standing desks with the finding that increased physical discomfort can arise after just two hours of use.  

The investigation, published in the journal Ergonomics, included 20 adults aged 18 to 38 who worked a mix of standing vs sedentary jobs. They were instructed to stand at a properly aligned standing desk and use a computer for two hours, during which body status and mental state were assessed every half hour.

By the end of the experiment, participants reported a significant increase in discomfort in the lower back and lower limb areas, and lower limb swelling was documented. Cognitive tests showed that creative problem-solving skills were maintained throughout the period, but reaction time and fatigue levels worsened.

Although these results must be taken with a massive grain of salt thanks to the tiny study size, lack of a sitting control group, and single data-gathering period, the overall message stands in contrast to the aforementioned small handful of investigations touting the benefit of working upright.

Chief among them is a widely circulated 2015 study suggested that call center employees could be up to 53 percent more productive than their sitting co-workers when given a standing desk set-up for six months. And just last month, a headline-grabbing paper reported that making the switch from sitting to standing at work causes the body to burn 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of fat over one year.

On closer inspection, however, the first study had a host of problems, and the second one only accounted for metabolic changes and ignored possible side effects.

On the other hand, a well-conducted 12-year study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that adults in occupations that involve standing most of the time have twice the risk of heart disease, likely due to chronic pressure in the veins and increased oxidative stress.

And in a painful blow to standing desk legitimacy, a 2016 Cochrane review of 29 studies concluded that there’s no quality evidence to support that users of adjustable sit-stand desks actually sit less during the day.

“The bottom line is that this expansion [of standing desks] has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence,” said Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert not involved in the research to the Washington Post. “But the evidence is catching up and it’s showing there are some drawbacks.”

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Ellen presenting Jimmy Kimmel with a surprise for his son is super emotional

Ellen DeGeneres often surprises the guests she has on her show. But it’s not often the surprise is as heartwarming as this one.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel appeared on The Ellen Show to chat about hosting the upcoming Oscars.

At one point the subject turned to his son, Billy, who was born with a genetic heart disease he’s previously had to undergo surgery for. Kimmel wanted to thank DeGeneres for helping to raise $1 million for Children’s Hospital LA in Billy’s honour.

Turns out that wasn’t all she’d done, though.

“We called our friends at Children’s Hospital LA, including Billy’s surgeon, and we have named one of the rooms of the heart institute floor in honour of Billy,” DeGeneres tells Kimmel in the clip above.

Kimmel’s emotional reaction says it all.

DeGeneres later tweeted to encourage more people to donate.

And Kimmel and Billy thanked her once again.

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