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Air pollution may affect cognitive skills

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Beijing, Aug 28: Besides harming physical health, long-term exposure to air pollution can also affect cognitive skills, especially in elderly men, claims a study.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided evidence that verbal and math scores “decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure”.

This decline — a potential risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia — becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated.

“The damage on the ageing brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions,” said researchers including Xin Zhang from Beijing Normal University.

The team examined cognitive test scores of nearly 32,000 people between 2010 and 2014 against their exposure to short and long-term air pollution.

While the study adds to the already numerous health concerns regarding air pollution including damage to the heart and kidneys, it will be of particular concern to developing nations whose smoggy cities could be hampering national economic development, CNN reported.

“The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution,” Zhang said.

“Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air containing a high level of pollutants, with the worst affected regions being Africa and Asia.

A recent study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, showed that if air pollution were removed as a risk for death, people in the world could live at least a year longer and in India, which is battling severe air pollution, the benefit would be even more — about 1.5 years.

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Anti-inflammatory drugs may put you at heart attack risk

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If you have been hit by the winter cold and are thinking about taking medicines that relieve your aches, pains and congestion, be careful. Those may also put your heart at risk, the American Heart Association has warned.

A study has showed that both decongestants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), found in many cold medicines, were listed as medications that could increase blood pressure.

People who used NSAIDs while sick were more than three times as likely to have a heart attack within a week compared with the same time period about a year earlier when participants were neither sick nor taking an NSAID.

“People with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid taking oral decongestants. And for the general population or someone with low cardiovascular risk, they should use them with the guidance of a health care provider,” said Sondra DePalma, from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

Decongestants like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine constrict blood vessels. They allow less fluid into your sinuses, “which dries you up”, said Erin Michos, associate director of preventive cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Univerity’s Ciccarone Center in Baltimore.

The biggest concerns are for people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or have heart failure or uncontrolled high blood pressure, Michos said, in the paper published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Importantly, healthy people might also be at risk.

For the study, researchers looked at nearly 10,000 people with respiratory infections who were hospitalised for heart attacks.

Participants were 72 years old on average at the time of their heart attacks and many had cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

People who are sick should use both classes of medications — decongestants and NSAIDs — judiciously and understand the potential side effects.

In addition, decongestants should not be taken longer than seven days before consulting with a healthcare provider, DePalma said.

One should also rest and drink plenty of fluids if symptoms are mild or moderate, DePalma noted.

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What is to be blamed for childhood cancer?

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A team of researchers has thrown light on the community beliefs about what causes cancer in children, an area which remains understudied, finds a latest research.

“Few childhood cancers are attributed to genetics or environmental factors, so when children are diagnosed with cancer, families often wonder ‘why me/why us’?” said lead author Janine Vetsch, postdoctoral research candidate from UNSW Sydney in Australia.

For the study, the team examined the beliefs of more than 600 participants — parents and childhood cancer survivors — about the causes of childhood cancer, and compared them with beliefs of 510 members of the general population.

Findings, published in Acta Oncologica, revealed that more than seven out of 10 childhood cancer survivors and survivors’ parents believed that chance or bad luck caused the cancer.

This led to most parents and survivors seem to understand that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the cancer, according to Vetsch.

However, around one in five families did believe that environmental factors and genetics played a role, despite only limited available scientific evidence, results further showed.

“It looks like healthcare professionals are successfully helping most families arrive at that view,” said Vetsch.

Such views could lead to stigma. Hence, it is important to increase community knowledge of childhood cancer causes in general.

There is a need to encourage doctors to talk about the causes with affected families to address unhelpful misconceptions,” Vetsch suggested.

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Does your dental floss contain toxic chemicals?

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New York, Jan 9: Using Oral-B Glide dental floss could contribute to elevated levels of toxic chemicals that can lead to health problems, especially in women, including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, low birth weight, among others, says a study led by US-based Silent Spring Institute.

In the study, the team measured the presence of 11 different PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) — water- and grease-proof substances — in blood samples of 178 middle-aged women.

The findings, appearing in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (JESEE), showed that women who flossed with Oral-B Glide tended to have higher levels of a type of PFAS called PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) in their body compared with those who did not.

“This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals,” said lead author Katie Boronow, a scientist at the institute.

“The good news is, based on our findings, consumers can choose flosses that don’t contain PFAS,” she added.

Further, the team also tested 18 dental flosses (including three Glide products) for the presence of fluorine — a marker of PFAS, all of which tested positive for fluorine. The new findings are consistent with previous reports that Glide is manufactured using Teflon-like compounds.

In addition, the study also showed that women who frequently ate prepared food in coated cardboard containers, such as French fries or takeout, had elevated blood levels of PFAS chemicals.

“Overall, this study strengthens the evidence that consumer products are an important source of PFAS exposure,” Boronow said. “Restricting these chemicals from products should be a priority to reduce levels in people’s bodies.”

Other behaviours that were associated with higher PFAS levels included having stain-resistant carpet or furniture and living in a city served by a PFAS-contaminated drinking water supply.

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