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Research updates

Mass screening has been introduced in most developed countries around the world at enormous cost and with the expectation that it would reduce deaths from breast cancer by up to 30 per cent.

Mass screening has been introduced in most developed countries around the world at enormous cost and with the expectation that it would reduce deaths from breast cancer by up to 30 per cent.

Many people turn to iced tea for a cool summer drink. However, researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine have found that it causes kidney stones.

When researchers compared the take-up of screening programmes to breast cancer mortality rates, they discovered no benefit whatsoever
- Kathryn Borg

Tea is rich in oxalates, a key chemical which leads to the formation of kidney stones, a health problem that affects over 10 per cent of the population. People with a tendency to form kidney stones should avoid iced tea completely, according to the researchers.

Kidney stones are formed by not consuming enough fluids. However, iced tea is the one drink that should be avoided. Drink water or lemonade instead, the researchers urge.

Interestingly, hot tea does not have the same effect, even though it is equally rich in oxalates.

Moving on to other forms of drinks, let’s look at fizzy beverages. It is well known that sugary drinks are bad for us.

However, the extent of the damage they can cause even in a very short time has shocked researchers who tested a selection of such drinks on a group of 11 healthy and lean volunteers.

After just four weeks of regular consumption, their entire metabolism had altered. They all put on weight and their insulin resistance had increased (insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and heart disease).

The effects happened in people who drank a can of a sugary, fizzy drink every day or even just two cans a week. Sometimes within a month, their metabolism changed, making any of the life-threatening diseases more likely. Consequently, such drinks could be a direct cause of weight gain, heart disease, liver failure, high blood pressure and diabetes (Eur. J. Nutr., 2012).

Moving on but again with a link to diabetes, researchers have discovered that a vitamin D deficiency could be the missing key in understanding type 2 diabetes, which is the lifestyle form of the disease; the problem appears to supercharge the issue of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is nearly twice as common in people with a vitamin D deficiency compared with diabetics who are obese but have normal levels of the vitamin.

Researchers from Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia believe vitamin D supplements could be a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the severity of diabetes (Diabetes Care, 2012).

Levels of vitamin D can also be increased by exposure to the sun. But in this day and age when we are advised to avoid the sun, even those living in Malta can have a serious vitamin D deficiency.

Recent drug news regarding statins and hair-loss drugs have thrown up some interesting concerns. Another side effect of the cholesterol-lowering statin drug has emerged, indicating that it increases the risk of cataracts.

It has been found that the risk is the same as those people with diabetes. A type 2 diabetic runs an 82 per cent risk of developing cataracts, whereas a statin user’s risk is increased by 57 per cent.

However, when other possible risk factors were eliminated, the risk was about the same for both, say researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The study involved the profiles of almost 6,400 people being treated for cataracts at an eye clinic.

Researchers have found that men who took a hair-loss drug could be suffering from depression and possibly be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

A recent study of former users of this drug, who also suffered sex-related side effects for more than three months at a time, also reported having suicidal thoughts, and 36 per cent had severe depressive symptoms.

Researchers said the reaction was very common and could affect the numerous men who took the drug for hair loss (J.Clin. Psychiatry, 2012).

Finally, another look at the success (or not) of routine mammograms for breast cancer. Mass routine mammogram screening has not saved lives, according to researchers from the International Prevention Research Institute. The researchers claim that the death rate from breast cancer has been steadily declining since 1972, long before mammography was introduced.

Mass screening has been introduced in most developed countries around the world at enormous cost and with the expectation that it would reduce deaths from breast cancer by up to 30 per cent.

However, when these researchers compared the take-up of the screening programmes to mortality rates, they discovered no benefit whatsoever.

In fact, deaths from breast cancer have been falling steadily since 1972 and have continued to fall at the same rate ever since. This has not been affected by mammogram screening, which reached its peak in 1997, they said.

It based its research on breast cancer death rates and screening levels in Sweden from 1972 to the present time.

However, a similar picture can be drawn for most developed nations. “It seems paradoxical that the downward trends in breast cancer mortality have evolved practically as if screening had never existed,” said one researcher (J. Natl Cancer Inst., 2012).

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