Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am


Pole yourself together

Nordic walking helps heart failure patients to safely increase exercise intensity and gain additional cardiorespiratory benefits from exercise than walking without poles, according to research presented yesterday at the Heart Failure Congress in Belgrade, Serbia. The aerobic workout, which involves walking with poles and mimicking the motions of cross-country skiing, is one of the fastest developing forms of physical activity in Europe, and is safe for older patients. 'In Nordic walking we have a big workload because we use additional muscle groups,' says lead author Andrzej Lejczak, a physiotherapist at the Military Hospital in Wroclaw, Poland. 'We walk with four limbs, so we're exercising our arms and legs at the same time - that's why we have such a beneficial response.' The study involved 12 heart failure patients and 12 healthy adults, and both groups were able to reach a higher heart rate and fatigue level when walking with poles than without.

You don't want to know

The final word from the US Preventive Services Task Force: PSA-based screening for prostate cancer for all men is not recommended, as the harms outweigh the benefits, regardless of age. The Task Force published its views online today in Annals of Internal Medicine. It considered two major trials - one in the US and another across seven European countries - of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing in asymptomatic men to assess the test's life-saving benefits and found no significant reduction in deaths. Conversely, nearly 90 per cent of men with PSA-detected prostate cancer undergo early treatment with surgery, radiation, or androgen deprivation therapy. Evidence shows up to five in 1,000 of these men will die within one month of surgery, and between 10 and 70 men will survive, but will suffer urinary incontinence, erectile and bowel dysfunction. However, some experts reject the finding, saying it's based on flawed studies with inadequate follow-up time.

Every little bit helps

Stanford scientists have devised the genetic equivalent of a binary digit - a 'bit' in computing jargon - that allows for repeated encoding, storing and erasing of digital data within the DNA of living cells. This could become a powerful tool for studying cancer, ageing, development in organisms and even the natural environment. 'Essentially, if the DNA section points in one direction, it's a zero. If it points the other way, it's a one,' explains one of the scientists, Pakpoom Subsoontorn. Researchers, for example, could count how many times a cell divides, and that might some day give scientists the ability to turn off cells before they turn cancerous. The researchers reapplied natural enzymes adapted from bacteria to flip specific sequences of DNA back and forth at will. They call their device a 'recombinase addressable data' (RAD) module. The study, which took three years, was published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Let's go native

People who live off the land and grow what they need to survive have lower age-related increases in blood pressure and less risks of atherosclerosis, according to two new studies in the journal Hypertension. These conditions typically increase with age, raising risks for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and death. But University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers, who followed more than 2,000 indigenous adults in 82 Tsimane villages in the Amazon basin, found that heart disease and stroke aren't inevitable with age. Tsimane - forager-horticulturalists who subsist on plantain, rice, corn, manioc, fish and hunted game - have blood pressure two to eight times lower than 53 societies around the world. In the other study researchers in Belgium compared atherosclerosis risk in traditional pygmies - hunter-gatherers living in the equatorial forests of Cameroon - to two neighbouring groups: semi-urbanised pygmies and farmers known as the Bantu. A traditional lifestyle was found to blunt the effect of ageing on atherosclerosis.