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Reduced meat consumption could avert millions of premature deaths

Reducing meat consumption and eating more fruit and vegetables could avert millions of premature deaths each year, a study has found.

Premature deaths from diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer – conditions that are also risk factors for Covid-19 patients – could be prevented by including measures to reduce global meat consumption in Covid-19 recovery plans, researchers say.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh used a computer model to assess the impacts that different Covid-19 recovery plans could have between 2019 and 2060. They modelled four post-pandemic scenarios and considered how the global food system would be affected by each of these. Their findings show plans that include dietary shifts toward less meat and more fruit and vegetables could prevent 2,600 premature deaths per million people by 2060. With the world’s population projected to be more than 10 billion by 2060, this could potentially avert 26 million deaths that year alone, the team said. Reducing the amount of meat eaten globally would make food more affordable – particularly in low- and middle-income countries – and be better for the environment, the analysis shows. Cutting meat consumption would also reduce agricultural land use and the need for irrigation and fertiliser, which can affect water quality and harm biodiversity, the team said.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

Did you know?

“Reishi packs a powerful punch when it comes to anti-ageing,” explains medical herbalist Bergitte McGovern, BSc (Hons) MNIMH, (www.herbsbybee.co.uk).

“It is traditionally known as ‘the mushroom of immortality’ due to its broad spectrum of benefits. Highly beneficial to the heart and circulation, it helps with high blood pressure and cholesterol control. Other benefits include support for healthy blood sugar, liver function, insomnia and anxiety, along with having neuroprotective and anti-tumour properties.”

Study reveals confusion over healthy eating

Findings from a new survey, conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), have revealed widespread confusion about healthy eating among both adults and children.

The survey was conducted as part of the BNF’s Healthy Eating Week campaign, which took place in June. This year’s campaign focused on healthy sources of fibre as well as getting your five-a-day. The survey suggests that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of children aged between seven and 11, and 17 per cent of children aged from 11 to 16 think that chicken counts towards your five-a-day. Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of primary school children think that cheese can be one of your five-a-day.

Only 38 per cent of all UK adults and 23 per cent of older children know that carrots contain fibre, while 60 per cent of secondary schoolchildren and 36 per cent of primary schoolchildren believe that wholemeal bread is a source of fibre. The survey also shows that many people do not currently eat, or have never tried, a range of plant foods, such as beans and lentils, which provide essential nutrients like protein and fibre.

Sara Stanner, Science Director at British Nutrition Foundation said: “Government advice is for us all to eat more plant-based foods because they’re good for us and for the environment. It is concerning that there is confusion across the UK about the nutritional contents of some common foods, including plant-based foods. Lack of knowledge means people are less empowered to make informed choices, and achieving a healthy diet, with a good balance of the right types of foods, is more difficult if you don’t know which key nutrients the foods that we eat provide.”

The campaign resources, which include information, recipes and activity ideas, can be found at www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-eating-week

Study to examine impact of sleep on stroke recovery

A study is being launched which will examine how sleep can help with stroke recovery. Researchers from the University of East Anglia are looking for people in the region who have had a stroke to take part in this study.

Lead researcher Prof Valerie Pomeroy, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, killing brain cells. Damage to the brain can affect how the body works – and weakness on one side of the body is the most common and well-known effect of stroke. If your muscles are weak, you are likely to have some difficulty moving your limbs and moving around in general. We want to better understand how the brain recovers after a stroke so we will be investigating how stroke survivors regain movement, and how this is influenced by sleep and time.”

Participants will undertake measures of daily activity, sleep and movement and will need to attend two visits at UEA. For further information or to take part, email v.pomeroy@uea.ac.uk or call 01603 591923.

Dogs can help to reduce stress in children, study finds

Interacting with dogs can significantly reduce stress levels in children both with and without special needs, a new study has found.

The University of Lincoln study involved 149 UK primary school children aged between eight and nine from both mainstream schools and special educational needs schools. The children were randomly assigned to three groups: a dog group, a relaxation group and a control group. In the dog group, the children interacted for 20 minutes with a trained dog and handler, while the relaxation group involved a 20-minute relaxation session. Sessions were carried out twice a week for four weeks. The control group attended school as normal.

The researchers measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of the children. Their findings showed that the children who interacted with the dog had significantly lower cortisol levels. These findings applied to the children in both the mainstream and special needs schools. In the mainstream schools, the children in the control and relaxation groups had increases in mean salivary cortisol over the course of the school term. In contrast, the children who participated in either group or individual sessions with dogs had no statistically significant increase in cortisol. In addition, their cortisol levels were, on average, lower immediately after a dog session. For children with special educational needs, similar patterns were seen, with decreases in cortisol after interacting with the dog. The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Vitamin D in pregnancy could reduce eczema in babies

Mums-to-be who take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy could substantially reduce the chances of their babies experiencing eczema, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Southampton conducted the randomised controlled study of more than 700 pregnant women. Of that number, 352 took 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day from when they were 14 weeks pregnant until they gave birth, while 351 took a placebo.

Dr Sarah El-Heis, who was first author of the paper, said: “Our results showed that babies of mothers who received supplements had a lower chance of having atopic eczema at 12 months, which supports recommendations for vitamin D supplements to be routine during pregnancy.”

The effect was particularly seen in babies who were later breastfed for more than a month.

Dr El-Heis added: “We found no effect at 24 and 48 months suggesting that other postnatal influences might become more important beyond infancy or that the babies themselves might also need to be supplemented during the postnatal period for a sustained effect.”

The research was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Study highlights the link between sitting and cardio health

Long periods of time spent sitting down have been linked with an increased risk of early death and cardiovascular disease. These were the findings of a study lead by researchers from Simon Fraser University in Canada and Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

The international study surveyed more than 100,000 individuals in 21 countries for an average of 11 years. The results showed that people who sat for six to eight hours a day had a 12 to 13 per cent increased risk of early death and heart disease, while those who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 20 per cent increased risk.

The findings were published in the journal Jama Cardiology.

Alcohol intake may be linked to cognitive decline

Drinking seven or more units of alcohol per week is linked with higher iron levels in the brain, a new study has found. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the University of Oxford carried out the study of 20,965 individuals. The participants reported their own alcohol consumption, and their brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Almost 7,000 also had their livers imaged using MRI to assess levels of systemic iron. All individuals completed a series of tests to assess cognitive and motor function.

Although 2.7 per cent classed themselves as non-drinkers, average intake was around 18 units per week. The team found that alcohol consumption above seven units per week was associated with markers of higher iron in areas of the brain associated with control of motor movements, procedural learning, eye movement, cognition, emotion and more. Iron accumulation in some brain regions was associated with worse cognitive function. The findings were published in PLOS Medicine.

Higher salt intake linked to higher risk of premature death

People who add extra salt to their food are at higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause, a new study has revealed.

The study was carried out by researchers from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. The team analysed data from 501,379 people who they followed for an average of nine years. Premature death was defined as death before the age of 75.

Compared to those who never or rarely added salt, those who always added salt to their food had a 28 per cent increased risk of dying prematurely. Furthermore, at the age of 50, 1.5 years and 2.28 years were taken off the life expectancy of women and men, respectively, who always added salt to their food compared to those who never, or rarely, did.

As well as finding that always adding salt to foods was linked to a higher risk of premature death from all causes and a reduction in life expectancy, the researchers found that these risks tended to be reduced slightly in people who consumed the highest amounts of fruit and vegetables, although these results were not statistically significant.

The findings were published in the European Heart Journal.