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

Water

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

Salt

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

Flavourings

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.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/13/calls-for-warnings-on-astonishingly-salty-chinese-food

Is vitamin D really a cure-all and how should we get our fix?

Evidence is growing that the sunshine vitamin helps protect against a wide range of conditions including cancers

Vitamin D is having quite a moment. In the past few months, evidence has been growing that the sunshine vitamin not only has an important role in bone and muscle health, but might also help prevent a range of cancers, reduce the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, protect against multiple sclerosis and cut the risk of colds and flu.

But is vitamin D truly a cure-all? And if the benefits are real, should we all be taking vitamin D supplements or even fortifying our foods?

Vitamin D is not one chemical, but a label that covers a group of substances, including vitamin D2 and D3. The latter is the form made when sunlight hits your skin and is also found in other animals. Non-animal sources such as fungi and yeasts primarily produce the D2 form. Once in the body, these substances are converted into biologically active steroids that circulate in the blood.

One area where the impact on health appears to be clear is vitamin Ds role in keeping bones and teeth healthy and improving muscle strength.

The musculoskeletal stuff is really good and really strong, said Helen Bond, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, pointing out that vitamin D is important in calcium and phosphate absorption.

Too little vitamin D can be serious: the skeletal disorders osteomalacia and rickets are known to be caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and the latter is on the rise in the UK, a finding some put down to the impact of poverty on poor nutrition.

But do the wider health claims stand up?

Intuition suggests that it cant all be right, said Julia Newton-Bishop, professor of dermatology and vitamin D expert from the University of Leeds. But while a recent review of evidence by the scientific advisory committee on nutrition only found strong evidence in the case of bone and muscle health, Newton-Bishop says a growing body of research is exploring other conditions.

Newton-Bishop says the fact that receptors for vitamin D are present on a huge array of body cells suggests the substance might indeed play a central role in our health, adding that human history offers further evidence: as humans moved to higher latitudes, skin tone became paler. [One] explanation is that vitamin D was so important that that was a selective pressure, she said. The fact that Inuits arent pale-skinned and for millennia they have had an exclusively fish diet is an argument for the fact that vitamin D was a driver, because why would they be different to everyone else?

Martin Hewison, professor of molecular endocrinology at the University of Birmingham, who carried out the recent study into vitamin D and rheumatoid arthritis, said evidence from cell studies backs up the idea that the vitamin is important.

In most of the models, vitamin D appears to have quite a positive effect, he said. If you are using cancer cell lines or cancer cells, vitamin D has anti-cancer effects, and likewise in cells that have been used for models for infection and immune disorders, vitamin D has quite clear antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

But when it comes to studies in humans, the picture is far from clear-cut. While some studies find links to diseases, others do not.

That, say experts, could be partly down to the way they are conducted for example, not all studies take into account the starting levels of vitamin D in participants, or they may have been carried out in populations with different genetic factors that might affect the impact of vitamin D.

Other experts have doubts about vitamin Ds influence. Prof Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth, wrote in the Independent: The evidence so far suggests (with the possible exception of multiple sclerosis and some cancers) that low vitamin D levels are either irrelevant or merely a marker of the disease.

Hewison says that while vitamin D might help prevent certain conditions such as tuberculosis, respiratory infections and autoimmune diseases,it should not be seen as a cure for them. It is good at protecting against things, he said, but once a disease is settled in, it is unlikely you are going to be able to give somebody who has got prostate cancer vitamin D and it is going to get dramatically better.

What about the case for supplements? With some having previously been found to cause more harm than good, Newton-Bishop says caution towards this apparent panacea is unsurprising. Everyone within the cancer world is nervous about supplements, she said. I would say to patients dont take supplements, with the exception of avoiding a low vitamin D level.

But how low is low? With the amount of sunlight needed varying with genetics, skin colour, time of day, how much one covers up and a host of other factors, the scientific advisory committee on nutrition said it was too difficult to say how much sun we need to make sure our vitamin D levels are up to scratch. In any case, from October until March the sun in the UK isnt strong enough to do the job.

The upshot is that national guidelines now recommend that during the autumn and winter at least, individuals should consider taking supplements or boosting their intake of vitamin-D-rich foods to get an intake of 10 micrograms a day, with higher-risk individuals such as some ethnic minority groups advised to follow the guidelines all year round.

However, Bond says it is hard to get enough from diet alone.

There are very few naturally rich sources of vitamin D, and most really good sources are of animal origin, which doesnt bode well for vegans and vegetarians, she said. A serving of oily fish like mackerel will give you easily your 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, but if you drop down to a tin of canned tuna, you are only getting 1.5 micrograms.

And as Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, points out, even in the summer, sunshine isnt going to be the answer, especially because there is an associated risk of skin cancer.

If you are considering taking supplements, it might be worth checking which form of vitamin D they contain. Some people dont want an animal form of vitamin D, said Hewison. However, What studies have shown is that if you want to raise your blood vitamin D levels, vitamin D3 is much more efficient at doing that.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, a consultant paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says supplements are not enough as it is hard to make sure people actually take them. Instead, he suggests the UK consider food fortification.

Some countries, including Canada and Finland, have embraced fortification of milk. But although infant formula and some breakfast cereals, plant-based milks and fruit juices are already fortified in the UK, most foods are not.

Hewison believes the government should consider a national fortification plan and that the risks of it resulting in dangerously high vitamin D intake are negligible: I think most people in the field agree that if you want to have a large-scale improvement in peoples vitamin D levels then it can only really be done through fortified foods.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/mar/09/is-vitamin-d-really-a-cure-all-and-how-should-we-get-our-fix

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
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.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/08/where-world-noisiest-city

The town thats found a potent cure for illness community | George Monbiot

Frome in Somerset has seen hospital admissions fall since it began to tackle isolation. There are lessons for the rest of the country, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, its a newfangled intervention called community. This week the results from a trial in the Somerset town of Frome are published informally, in the magazine Resurgence& Ecologist. (A scientific paper has been submitted to a medical journal and is awaiting peer review). We should be cautious about embracing data before it is published in the academic press, and must always avoid treating correlation as causation. But this shouldnt stop us feeling a shiver of excitement about the implications, if the figures turn out to be robust and the experiment can be replicated.

What this provisional data appears to show is that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%. Julian Abel, a consultant physician in palliative care and lead author of the draft paper, remarks: No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.

Frome is a remarkable place, run by an independent town council famous for its democratic innovation. Theres a buzz of sociability, a sense of common purpose and a creative, exciting atmosphere that make it feel quite different from many English market towns, and for that matter, quite different from the buttoned-down, dreary place I found when I first visited, 30 years ago.

The Compassionate Frome project was launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there. She kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives: treated as if they were a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being who happened to have health problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and dejected by what she calls silo working.

So, with the help of the NHS group Health Connections Mendip and the town council, her practice set up a directory of agencies and community groups. This let them see where the gaps were, which they then filled with new groups for people with particular conditions. They employed health connectors to help people plan their care, and most interestingly trained voluntary community connectors to help their patients find the support they needed.

Sometimes this meant handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or mens sheds (where men make and mend things together). The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces peoples ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness.

This cycle is explained by some fascinating science, summarised in a recent paper in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Chemicals called cytokines, which function as messengers in the immune system and cause inflammation, also change our behaviour, encouraging us to withdraw from general social contact. This, the paper argues, is because sickness, during the more dangerous times in which our ancestral species evolved, made us vulnerable to attack. Inflammation is now believed to contribute to depression. People who are depressed tend to have higher cytokine levels.

But, while separating us from society as a whole, inflammation also causes us to huddle closer to those we love. Which is fine unless, like far too many people in this age of loneliness, you have no such person. One study suggests that the number of Americans who say they have no confidant has nearly tripled in two decades. In turn, the paper continues, people without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk of predation and sickness. So the immune system appears to have evolved to listen to the social environment, ramping up inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us against wounding and disease. In other words, isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.

Remarkable as Fromes initial results appear to be, they shouldnt be surprising. A famous paper published in PLOS Medicine in 2010 reviewed 148 studies, involving 300,000 people, and discovered that those with strong social relationships had a 50% lower chance of death across the average study period (7.5 years) than those with weak connections. The magnitude of this effect, the paper reports, is comparable with quitting smoking. A celebrated study in 1945 showed that children in orphanages died through lack of human contact. Now we know that the same thing can apply to all of us.

Dozens of subsequent papers reinforce these conclusions. For example, HIV patients with strong social support have lower levels of the virus than those without. Women have better chances of surviving colorectal cancer if they have strong connections. Young children who are socially isolated appear more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Most remarkably, older patients with either one or two chronic diseases do not have higher death rates than those who are not suffering from chronic disease as long as they have high levels of social support.

In other words, the evidence strongly suggests that social contact should be on prescription, as it is in Frome. But here, and in other countries, health services have been slow to act on such findings. In the UK we have a minister for loneliness, and social isolation is an official health priority. But the silo effect, budget cuts and an atmosphere of fear and retrenchment ensure that precious little has been done.

Helen Kingston reports that patients who once asked, What are you going to do about my problem? now tell her, This is what Im thinking of doing next. They are, in other words, no longer a set of symptoms, but people with agency. This might lead, as the preliminary results suggest, to fewer emergency admissions, and major savings to the health budget. But even if it doesnt, the benefits are obvious.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/town-cure-illness-community-frome-somerset-isolation

Even one cigarette a day greatly raises cardiovascular risk, experts warn

Impact of one daily cigarette on risk of heart disease and stroke greater than previously thought

Even one cigarette a day greatly raises cardiovascular risk, experts warn

Impact of one daily cigarette on risk of heart disease and stroke greater than previously thought

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/24/even-one-cigarette-a-day-greatly-raises-cardiovascular-risk-experts-warn

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

Still
The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

Type of alcohol determines whether you become merry or maudlin study

Spirits are associated with confidence and red wine is linked to relaxation and researchers hope findings will help people consider alcohols emotional effects

While indulging in booze can inspire cheerful merrymaking in some, for others it can lead to a tearful journey to the bottom of the glass. Now researchers say the emotions people feel when drinking could be linked to their tipple of choice.

An international survey has revealed that spirits are often associated with feelings of energy, confidence and sexiness but on the flip-side anger and tearfulness while red wine is the drink most commonly linked to relaxation, but also tiredness.

While the researchers say the reasons for the links are likely to be complex, they hope the study will urge individuals to think carefully about the alcohol they consume.

From a public health perspective a lot of the time we have focused on issues around cancer, heart disease and liver disease but an important aspect is the balance of emotional outcomes that people are getting from alcohol, said Mark Bellis, co-author of the research from Public Health Wales NHS Trust.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, is based on an anonymous online questionnaire that was completed by individuals aged between 18 and 34 who had drunk alcohol in the previous year. Part of an international survey on alcohol and drug use, the questions probed the type of alcohol drunk and associated emotions, and were asked in 11 different languages, with participants taking part from 21 countries around the world.

The results, based on answers from almost 30,000 participants who had reported consuming both red and white wine as well as beer and spirits in the past year, reveal that certain types of alcoholic drink appear to be linked to particular emotions.

Almost 53% of participants said drinking red wine made them feel relaxed an emotion that was also linked to beer by nearly 50% of participants, and white wine by nearly 33%. By contrast, spirits were linked to feelings of confidence by just over 59% of participants, energy by more than 58% and sexiness by just over 42%.

However, spirits were also more likely to be linked to negative feelings including tearfulness, with almost 48% of participants linking such tipples to feeling ill and nearly 30% to aggression. Meanwhile, more than 60% of participants said they linked red wine to feeling tired. White wine was the tipple least often linked to tearfulness, with only 10% saying they associated it with becoming weepy.

By and large spirits are having a stronger relationship in pretty well all of the outcomes apart from those associated with red wine, around relaxation and tiredness, said Bellis.

Further analysis, taking into account age and other factors, revealed that women were generally more likely to report feeling the various emotions on drinking alcohol, with men more likely to report feelings of aggression.

The proportion of participants reporting the various emotions, both positive and negative, generally increased with overall heaviness of drinking. Further differences were found for the various drinks when participants age, educational background and sex were considered.

Drinking was found more likely to be linked to feelings of relaxation and tiredness when done at home; confidence, sexiness, energy and feeling ill or aggressive were more likely when out.

However, the study had limitations, not least that it drew on a self-selecting group of participants, meaning it might have appealed to those more likely to take drugs and drink. It also did not take into account how much participants drank on any one occasion or whether they mixed drinks, and relied on participants thinking back to how they felt at the time.

Whats more, it is not clear whether the alcohol itself triggered the emotions, or whether the social situation also played a role, while the concentration of the alcohol, presence of other ingredients, and peoples expectations of the drinks could also be important factors.

Matt Field, professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool who was not involved in the research, said that the study was valuable, and agreed with the authors that it would be interesting to explore whether they way in which different drinks are advertised might affect the emotions people link to them.

But, he said, it was far from clear that spirits were more likely than other alcoholic drinks to make people aggressive.

Because it is a cross-sectional snapshot there are a lot of things that might explain it, he said. It could be that people who are more prone to aggression after alcohol might favour spirits for reasons that we dont know.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/22/type-of-alcohol-determines-whether-you-become-merry-or-maudlin-study

Stress is bad for your health. Today’s political uncertainty makes it worse

Americans are exposed to one of the most damaging sources of stress: uncertainty. The assault on our fundamental sense of security can make us sick

David Dobbs 13-year-old daughter has type 1 diabetes. Since 2015, the 59-year-old freelance writer and author has relied on Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to help pay for his daughters insulin, blood testing supplies and other medical needs. But as the endless series of cliffhangers over the fate of the ACA continues, Dobbs says hes starting to feel hunted.

Without insurance, diabetes treatment alone would cost his family about $20,000 to $30,000 a year, he estimates and thats if nothing goes wrong and prompts an astronomically expensive hospitalization.

For Dobbs and millions of otherslike him, the continuing unpredictable battles over the law can feel like an assault on their fundamental sense of security.

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If the ACAs protections are removed, middle-class Americans will be even further exposed to one of the most toxic sources of stress that accompanies inequality: uncertainty.

Uncertainty such as not knowing whether you will face possibly catastrophic medical costs keeps the brains stress systems at a dangerously high level of arousal, according to Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University and one of the worlds leading experts on the health effects of stress. In a state of constant activity, [these systems] can produce effects like elevated blood pressure that can lead, over time, to cardiovascular disease, he says.

Dozens of studies in both humans and animals show how uncertainty makes stress harder to manage and therefore more dangerous. The best weapons against stress-related harm, research shows, are social support and a sense of meaningful control over ones life and actions. However, being unable to predict and prepare for contingencies can undermine both.

The battle over healthcare has been full of it. The first repeal bill mobilized a massive resistance, before failing to win enough votes and dying. But then, it seemed to arise from the grave: only to be vanquished by an 11th-hour veto from brain cancer-stricken Senator John McCain.

And even that wasnt the end of it: up against a September deadline, the bill staggered back to life, only to again be stymied by the slimmest minority. And now, President Trump is trying to sabotage Obamacare via executive order.

Great for a series plotline; not so great to live through.

While Dobbs immediately acknowledges that he and his wife, a freelance editor, are privileged to do work they love, facing a future of completely unpredictable expenses and a child who could be forever uninsurable is not what Americans have typically expected of a middle class life, suggesting that his familys life is disposable or were happy to throw you aside, Dobbs says.

In short, the ACA may not have made everyone healthy, but Donald Trumps determined efforts to kill it may itself be harming people even if he doesnt succeed.

For the millions of families whose lives and finances may hang in the balance, enduring this cruel, chaotic and compassionless political process is both enraging and disempowering. It turns what would be a financial difficulty in our ability to close the gap between what we make and what we need to cover extra expenses into a sort of existential disadvantage, says Dobbs.

Indeed, at the time that ACA passed, medical debt was the No 1 cause of bankruptcy in America. Upon its implementation, there was a 50% drop in debt filings, which experts surmise was related. Today, if key provisions are eliminated, the threat of suddenly losing everything because of an unforeseen illness or accident once again looms large.

McEwen, the neuroscientist, adds, Dont forget that when a person is aroused by uncertainty, they may not sleep very well, may eat comfort foods, smoke, drink or all of the above. Obviously, these attempts to relieve stress can themselves be unhealthy.

Research on how working conditions affect health also emphasizes just how dangerous uncontrollable and unpredictable stress can be. Having little control over your work, for example, more than doubles your risk for coronary heart disease, according to a study of around 10,000 British civil servants. Another study found a 30% increase in risk for stroke.

The mind is the crucial gateway between the social environment and illness, says Sir Michael Marmot, the lead researcher on the study of civil servants. If you feel well-equipped and supported in facing the challenges of your job, the effects of stress on health may even be positive but harm comes from conditions that leave you unprepared and make your efforts feel futile.

In fact, the most health-damaging form of workplace stress involves being held responsible for conditions or outcomes that you actually dont have the power to change. Sales jobs, for instance, are often heavily reliant on commissions but salespeople cant change product flaws that deter repeat customers, for example. Theyre also often squeezed between angry customers and rigid work rules.

Most jobs with such high demand/low control characteristics have low status, which accounts for part of why having low status is harmful to health. And with 94% of all job growth between 2005 and 2015 coming in the freelance, part-time and independent contractor category, more people may face conditions over which they feel less control.

By itself, however, uncertainty doesnt have to be a harmful aspect of stress the real problem is when it is also accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. A series of rather horrifying experiments conducted in the 1970s by Martin Seligman and his colleagues illustrates this vividly.

Rats or dogs were yoked together in a cage where they would receive electric shocks at unpredictable times. But one animal had control: it had access to a lever that allowed it to turn the electricity off as soon as the shock started. The other animals merely experienced both unpredictable and uncontrollable shocks.

The mental and physical health effects were profound. The animals that controlled their experience were unharmed. The ones that could not escape the shock, however, suffered from impaired immune response to diseases like cancer, as well as a syndrome called learned helplessness. In this state, animals simply withdraw and stop trying to improve their situation. Even if they are later offered clear escape routes, they dont bother to try to flee. Essentially, they give up hope.

In fact, the brain physiology of this state is so much like that seen in depression that similar experiments are commonly used to test antidepressants: effective medications delay the surrender to despair.

Sadly, the political conditions we face now risk being an unwitting experiment in learned helplessness: our sense of powerlessness in the face of uncaring leadership is continually reinforced in debates like the one over our healthcare system. Though huge majorities oppose repeal as does virtually every stakeholder in the healthcare industry, including doctors, patients and insurer groups the ultimate decision was repeatedly made by a tiny group of Republican senators in a process that was far from democratic. Now, it lies with the courts and the president.

This is another of the vicious cycles produced by todays inequality: it increases political polarization, the unchecked power of elites and overall helplessness.

Dobbs compares his familys uncertainty over their medical care to being in a horror movie. It is like the zombies are coming, he says. They come and they come and they come and so far every time, just as they are getting the hinges loose on the front door, dawn comes and they have to leave.

Yet, he adds: We know that night will come again.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/07/stress-uncertain-political-health

When do the clocks go back? Key facts about the switch to GMT

Extra hour of sleep could help protect against cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and stress

Britons will be able to enjoy an extra hour under the duvet and reap health and cognitive bonuses on Sunday when the clocks go back at 2am, according to sleep experts.

As daylight saving time ends, the UK will switch from British summer time (BST) to Greenwich mean time (GMT), heralding the start of lighter mornings but darker evenings.

But according to Prof Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at Berkeley, California a small boost to our nightly slumber can also improve memory and increase learning capacity.

Walker, who recently published Why We Sleep, a book drawing on 20 years of research and findings from his laboratory, said: Just 60 to 90 minutes of additional sleep boosts the learning capacity of the brain, significantly increasing memory retention of facts and preventing forgetting.

In a study published six years ago in Current Biology, Walker and a team of researchers demonstrated that during a demanding memorising task, test subjects who were allowed extra nap time performed better than those who did not.

They found the brains ability to learn was linked to sleep spindles: fast pulses of electricity generated during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which accounts for 25% of total sleep time in adult humans.

Spindle-rich sleep, which is said to occur in the second half of the night, helps with the brains ability to create new memories by clearing a path to learning.

But it is not just about improved brain power. Experiments conducted in 2013 by the Surrey Sleep Centre and the BBC showed a link between an extra hour in bed and genetic expression that helps protect against illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and stress.

Scientists at the centre in Guildford divided the participants into two groups. During the first week, one group slept for six-and-a-half hours nightly while the other had seven-and-a-half hours of sleep. The volunteers then switched their sleep patterns in the second week.

The researchers found that those who had less sleep struggled with mental agility tasks. Blood tests revealed that genes associated with processes such as inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active for those who had less sleep.

The activity of genes associated with heart disease, diabetes and risk of cancer also increased. They found the reverse happened when the volunteers slept for an extra hour.

Meanwhile, other studies have linked extra sleep time to a lower risk of heart disease. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adults who slept for seven hours a night had a lower chance of having calcium deposits in their arteries than adults who had only six hours of sleep.

According to scientists from the University of Chicago, who conducted the five-year research, the benefit of one hour of additional sleep was comparable to the gains from lowering systolic blood pressure by 17mmHg.

Another study, published in 2012 in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that getting an extra hour of sleep significantly improved blood pressure levels among people with hypertension or pre-hypertension.

Daylight saving time has also been linked to heart attacks. In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2014, Amneet Sandhu of the University of Colorado reported a 24% increase in heart attack admissions at hospitals in Michigan from 2010 to 2013 on the Monday after the clocks went forward in spring, when compared with other Mondays throughout the year.

In contrast, he noted a 21% decrease in heart attacks on the Tuesday in the same hospitals after the clocks moved an hour back in autumn.

Last year a poll by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed people in the UK slept an average of 6.8 hours, under-sleeping by about an hour a night.

Modern daylight saving time (DST) is a little over 100 years old. It was first proposed by a New Zealander named George Hudson in 1895 and first introduced in the city of Orillia in Ontario in 1911-12.

The ideas big breakthrough came during the first world war when Germany introduced DST on 30 April 1916 to alleviate hardships from wartime coal shortages and air raid blackouts.

Britain, most of its allies and many European neutrals soon followed suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the next year, and the US adopted it in 1918.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/28/clocks-back-gmt-sleep-cancer-diabetes-high-blood-pressure-stress

Afternoon heart surgery has lower risk of complications, study suggests

Heart attacks and heart failure less common in patients having heart operations in the afternoon as opposed to the morning, say researchers

Patients undergoing open heart surgery in the afternoon have a lower risk of potentially fatal complications than those undergoing operations in the morning, new research suggests.

The study found that events including heart attacks and heart failure were less common among those who had undergone a valve replacement operation in the afternoon.

The finding appears to be linked to the ability of the heart tissue to recover after being starved of blood supply during surgery an effect the researchers say is influenced by the cells biological or circadian clock.

While the study suggests patients might fare better if they undergo afternoon surgery, Professor David Montaigne, first author of the research from the University of Lille in France, said it also highlighted another approach to reduce complications.

We have to find a drug that can alter the circadian clock to induce a jet lag, he said, noting that it could also help to improve patient outcomes for heart attacks and organ transplantation.

Writing the in Lancet, Montaigne and colleagues report how they looked at the outcomes of 596 patients, half of whom had valve surgery in the morning, and half in the afternoon. While 18% of morning surgery patients experienced a major cardiac event such as a heart attack or heart failure in the following 500 days, only 9% of those who had afternoon surgery experienced such events.

The team then randomly assigned 88 valve surgery patients to either morning or afternoon operations and monitored levels of a protein in their blood linked to heart tissue damage.

The results reveal that afternoon surgery patients had lower levels of the protein after their operation, suggesting about 20% less damage to the heart than those who underwent morning surgery.

Delving deeper, the team took biopsies from 14 morning surgery patients and 16 afternoon surgery patients, finding that tissue from the latter recovered better after being deprived of oxygen.

Further analysis found 287 genes within the cells that showed different levels of activity depending on whether the cells were from morning or afternoon patients genes which have, in many cases, previously been linked to the circadian clock.

With a time-of-day effect also found in the recovery of mouse heart tissue, the team explored the impact of tinkering with the activity linked to one of the body clock genes, both using drugs and by looking at mice without the gene. Both approaches improved the recovery of the heart tissue at the time of day when it was typically worse.

Dr John ONeill, an expert in circadian rhythms from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said the research backed up previous work in mice and fruitflies that had explored the genes involved in the body clock work which scooped a trio of scientists the Nobel prize for medicine earlier this month.

The biological clock, the circadian rhythm, is in every single cell of the body, therefore it affects the biological activity of each cell type, commensurate with the function of those cells, he said, adding that in healthy humans the heart is known to follow a daily pattern of activity and is not at its optimum performance in the morning.

But, he noted, since systems including that of inflammation are also influenced by circadian rhythms, they too might play a role in the different outcomes for morning and afternoon surgeries.

Whats more, said ONeill, the study did not consider whether the surgeons performed the operation better in the afternoon, adding that more work was need to explore whether the findings would hold for patients at other hospitals, or for other types of surgery.

It is not the case that every single medical intervention is necessarily going to be best dealt with in the afternoon, he said, adding that the research did not mean that patients should try to jet lag themselves before surgery.

Professor Bryan Williams, chair of medicine at University College London, described the new research as fascinating and elegant, adding that the study builds on the fact that cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, are more common in the morning. What this research suggests is that an intrinsic body clock within cells of the heart may render these cells more susceptible to injury during cardiac surgery in the morning versus the afternoon, he said.

But Williams agreed that it was too soon to consider rescheduling heart surgeries to the afternoon, and that large-scale, robust clinical trials would be needed to probe the effect further. This would be needed to change practice because the logistical implications of doing so would be huge and require definitive proof that there is a real benefit, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/26/afternoon-heart-surgery-has-lower-risk-of-complications-study-suggests