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Why you should sleep well, eat a Mediterranean diet and stay off the strong stuff (painkillers that is...)

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Tuesday 26 February.

A run of poor sleep can have a dramatic effect on the internal workings of the human body, say UK researchers.

The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people’s sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week, writes the BBC.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep. What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.

So researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.

More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins - changing the chemistry of the body.

Professor Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: ‘There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes.’

Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.

Professor Smith added: ‘Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur - hinting at what may lead to ill health.

‘If we can’t actually replenish and replace new cells, then that’s going to lead to degenerative diseases.’

He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study - suggesting these changes may be common.

But a Mediterranean diet may help, with The Guardian reporting on a major new study into the phenomenon.

Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts cuts by 30% the chances of those at risk of heart attacks or strokes suffering either event or dying of a heart condition, research reveals.

The findings, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine, offer hope to those in danger of a heart attack or stroke because they smoke, have type 2 diabetes or exhibit other unhealthy characteristics.

The study also confirms that the diet common in southern European countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, which involves consuming a lot of fruit, vegetables, fish and wine, and only small amounts of red meat or dairy products, offers protection against heart problems.

“The results of our trial might explain, in part, the lower cardiovascular mortality in Mediterranean countries than in northern Europe or the United States,” the authors conclude. The risk of those on the diet having a stroke was significantly reduced, they found.

Spanish researchers led by Prof Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at Barcelona University, studied 7,447 men aged 55 to 88 and women aged 60 to 80 between 2003 and 2009.

None had any cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the study, but all were at risk of it because they had type 2 diabetes or had at least three risk factors from a list including smoking; high blood pressure; high levels of bad cholesterol in their blood; low levels of healthy cholesterol; being overweight; or having family history of coronary heart disease.

The participants either followed a Mediterranean diet in which they consumed four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day or another version of the diet in which they had to eat about an ounce a day of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts.

These two groups were also told to eat fruit thrice daily, vegetables twice daily, fish as well as beans, peas and lentils at least three times a week, and have seven glasses of wine a week with their meals. The third group followed a low-fat diet.

When participants were examined an average of 4.8 years later, 228 had suffered a heart attack or stroke or died of heart problems – 96 occurred in the olive oil-heavy dietary group (3.4% of participants), 83 among those consuming a lot of nuts (3.4%) and 109 in the low-fat group (4.4%).

This corresponded to a drop in risk of 30% for those on the Mediterranean diets compared with the low fat diet.

The key components of those diets which improve risk of survival include moderate consumption of ethanol, from the wine, low consumption of meat and meat products, and high intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, fish and olive oil, they said.

Perhaps the news on sleep and Mediterranean diets will help readers of The Telegraph.

The newspaper reports that about 7.5 million people in the UK may be reliant on strong painkillers to feel well enough to go to work.

Many who take medicines containing codeine fear they are becoming dependent on them, found research by the firm Nuffield Health.

Drugs charities say dependence on prescription painkillers is a huge but largely hidden problem.

Nuffield Health found a quarter of the British adult population has been regularly taking painkillers for at least five years.

Overall, about one in five said they had to take painkillers just to keep working.

Given that there are about 38 million people of working age in the UK, the survey suggests about 7.5 million people are reliant on painkillers to attend work.

 

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