Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 4:43pm

Slim chance of a problem
Tall and thin may be desirable for a supermodel, but a new study shows that women with this type of physique are more likely to be infected by a type of bacteria that can cause fatal lung infections. Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), related to the organism that causes tuberculosis, are widespread in water and soil. Evidence suggests that infections have been rising in recent decades. About five to six people per 100,000 develop NTM infections each year; the incidence is higher in people aged over 50. Elderly women accounted for 85 per cent of the patients seen during the study, averaging about 64 years of age. Compared to control subjects, the NTM patients were on average almost 5cm taller, had body mass indices almost two points lower and 2.6kg less fat on their bodies. They more frequently had concave chests, known as pectus excavatum, and scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. They also showed a weakened immune response associated with their fat cells.


Hearty response to Spanish smoking laws 
Partial smoke-free legislation has had a positive impact on the number of heart disease cases in Girona, a city in northeast Catalonia, Spain. In 2006, Spanish authorities passed a law that regulated the selling and advertising of tobacco. Smoking was also banned in the workplace, and hospitality establishments larger than 100 square metres had to provide a smoke-free area. A study on the law's effects has found that between 2002 and 2008, the incidence of acute myocardial infarction in Girona dropped 11 per cent, especially among women, those aged between 65 and 74, and among non-smokers. In Spain, around 30 per cent of the adult population state they are smokers; passive exposure to tobacco smoke causes around 2,500 deaths due to coronary heart disease (7 per cent). Since 2011, smoking has been banned in all public places in Spain.


Hungry for a longer life
People who eat less could be in better health and have a lower risk of cancer, according to a study by a team from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre published in the journal PLoS ONE. The experts reduced the caloric intake of three-month-old mice by 40 per cent and observed them until their death. Mice with reduced caloric intake had longer telomeres - the end of chromosomes - as adults. This has a protective effect on DNA and genetic material. These beneficial effects translate to a lower incidence of cancer and other age-related illnesses. When the researchers carried out these same experiments with a variety of mice that produce more telomerase - a protein that lengthens telomeres and protects chromosomes - they observed that these mice not only enjoyed better health but also lived up to 20 per cent longer. 


Cloudy with a chance of pain
When lightning strikes, so may the migraine. University of Cincinnati researchers, in a study published in the journal Cephalalgia, have found that there was a 31 per cent increased risk of headache and 28 per cent increased risk of migraine for chronic headache sufferers on days lightning struck within 40 kilometres of the study participants' homes. In addition, new-onset headache and migraine increased by 24 per cent and 23 per cent in participants. After accounting for other weather factors encountered with thunderstorms, the results still showed a 19 per cent increased risk for headaches on lightning days. Dr Vincent Martin, co-study author and a headache expert, says negatively charged lightning currents were particularly associated with a higher chance of headache. "Electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning could trigger headaches," he says. "In addition, lightning produces increases in air pollutants like ozone and can cause release of fungal spores that might lead to migraine."