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Bigger portions blamed for obesity rise, DNA ‘body clock’ tracks tissue age and why having ‘tip of the tongue’ moments is not a sign of dementia

A round-up of the health news headlines on Monday 21 October.

The news this morning is that the British Heart Foundation wants the Government to take action over ready meal portion sizes to help fight the rise in obesity. According to The Mirror, the charity’s research found a shepherd’s pie ready meal had doubled in size over the past 20 years, while food items such as pies, packets of crisps and garlic bread have increased by up to 50%.

Compared with 1993, a stated portion of peanuts is now 80% bigger, while chicken curry ready meals are 53% larger, the paper says. And a portion of biscuits has gone up by 17% - meaning if you eat one biscuit a day you will take in 3,330 more calories in a year than you would have 20 years ago.

Foundation chief Simon Gillespie called for the Government to update advice and said: ‘Consumers need help to make healthier choices.’

Meanwhile, scientists have discovered an internal DNA ‘body clock’ which they hope to harness to slow the ageing process and fight cancer, The Guardian reports. The DNA clock signals how ‘old’ a tissue is – with some ageing much faster or slower and some diseased tissues tens of years older than healthy tissues from the same person.

The clock is based on how much DNA has been modified by methylation. The researchers found methylation of 353 specific markers varied consistently with age, but it is not yet clear if the changes cause ageing or are caused by it. Nevertheless, the team found the clock was reset to zero if adult cells were reprogrammed to a stem-cell-like state – providing a ‘proof of concept’ that the clock can be reset. Lead researcher Steve Horvath from University of California at Los Angeles said: ‘Ultimately, it would be very exciting to develop therapy interventions to reset the clock and hopefully keep us young.’

Finally, if you are experiencing those ‘tip of the tongue’ moments more frequently, fear not, as it is not a sign of dementia, says the Daily Mail. US researchers asked over 700 people aged 18 to 99 years to name celebrities, famous places and common nouns based on brief descriptions or pictures. 

Older people were more likely to experience the frustrating moments where they had the answer on the tip of the tongue – but there was no link between the frequency of this happening and their performance on memory tests for dementia.

Researcher and psychologist Timothy Salthouse, of the University of Virginia, said: ‘Even though increased age is associated with lower levels of episodic memory and with more frequent tip of the tongue experiences, the two phenomena seem to be largely independent of one another.’

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