Our Strength Lies in Our Humanity

Alcohol advice for pregnant women – a lost opportunity to communicate new guidelines

Alcohol advice for pregnant women – a lost opportunity to communicate new guidelines Shutterstock/Newman Studio Pregnant women in the UK are now officially advised to consume no alcohol at all. These guidelines, from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), were issued in January 2016, and replaced a previous recommendation that women should limit themselves to one or two units of alcohol, once or twice per week, and not get drunk. But…

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Antidepressants work, but just not how scientists thought they worked

Antidepressants work, but just not how scientists thought they worked sebra/Shutterstock Most clinical trials of antidepressants were done decades ago in people with severe depression recruited from specialist mental health services. Yet most people who take these drugs have mild to moderate depression. We wanted to know whether a common antidepressant called sertraline works for this group. We found that, indeed, it does work, but differently from how we expected.…

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Declaring vaccine hesitancy one of the ten biggest health threats in 2019 is unhelpful

Declaring vaccine hesitancy one of the ten biggest health threats in 2019 is unhelpful Luiscar74/Shutterstock The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared vaccine hesitancy one of the ten biggest threats to global health in 2019, along with air pollution and climate change. The declaration followed several measles outbreaks in Europe and the US, but most cases were in a country where the health system had broken down: Ukraine. Nothing suggests…

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Drug use in England and Wales is up for the fourth year in a row

Drug use in England and Wales is up for the fourth year in a row Cocaine is the third most commonly used drug among people aged 16 to 24. Christopher Elwell/Shutterstock Once a year we get a glimpse of how many people are using drugs such as heroin and cocaine in England and Wales. The Home Office conducts an annual household survey that asks people if they have used drugs…

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What does a healthy diet look like for me and the planet? It depends where you live

What does a healthy diet look like for me and the planet? It depends where you live Africa Studio/Shutterstock I want people to think about the food that they eat not just from “field to fork” but from “seed to soul”. I’ve studied how to make the world’s food supply sustainable for more than 30 years, so people often ask me what’s the best diet for the planet. The problem is, most people want easy answers to that question. Sadly, there are none. For example, I’ve often thought about becoming vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons. But I wouldn’t want to eat soya or other foodstuffs imported from the other side of the world because of the carbon emissions involved in transporting them. And if we’re going to acknowledge the…

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Ritalin at 75: what does the future hold?

Ritalin at 75: what does the future hold? Wikipedia, CC BY-SA Seventy-five years ago, a new stimulant drug with the generic name of methylphenidate was born in the Swiss lab of chemical company Ciba. Like many drugs, its therapeutic purpose was unclear. But these were the days a scientist could take a drug home and test it on their spouse, which is exactly what Ciba scientist Leandro Panizzon did. Panizzon’s wife, Rita, reported that the drug gave her tennis game a real fillip. And so Panizzon named the drug Ritaline in his wife’s honour. Panizzon would not have been surprised by this. Stimulants, including amphetamines, such as Benzedrine, had been used since the 1930s for a variety of afflictions, including psychiatric disorders. During World War II, they were widely prescribed…

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Over 3,000 killed by deadly virus in Democratic Republic of the Congo this year – and it’s not Ebola

Over 3,000 killed by deadly virus in Democratic Republic of the Congo this year – and it’s not Ebola Ebola outbreaks, such as the current one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has claimed 2,074 people’s lives, are widely covered in the media. But another virus is ravaging the DRC with minimal publicity. That virus is measles. Although measles has a much lower mortality rate than Ebola (around 2% compared with around 60%), there have been over 165,000 suspected cases of measles, with over 3,200 deaths in the DRC since the start of 2019. In a recent speech, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that he was “embarrassed to talk only about Ebola” in response to questions on recent developments in the…

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Curious Kids: why do I have boogies and why does my nose keep replicating them?

Curious Kids: why do I have boogies and why does my nose keep replicating them? Is that what I think it is? Shutterstock. Why do I have boogies and why does my nose keep replicating them? – Duncan, aged seven, Sydney, Australia. Boogies, bogeys or even boogers – whatever you call them, the little bits of dry snot (or “mucus”) that form in your nose actually help protect you from harm. Your nose makes mucus to help collect the tiny dust and dirt particles in the air you breathe, to stop them getting into your lungs. The mucus also contains special molecules (with interesting names like “immunoglobulins” and “enzymes”) that help protect you against infection or break down the dirt that you pick up from the outside air. Mucus is…

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How pregnancy changes women’s metabolism and immune systems

How pregnancy changes women’s metabolism and immune systems Some changes are more noticeable than others during pregnancy. Thanakorn.P/Shutterstock Some of the changes that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy are more obvious than others. We all know that women usually get a visible bump, they might have morning sickness initially, and swollen ankles later on, but pregnancy can also change some of their key bodily processes and functions too. One of these less obvious changes occurs to women’s metabolism. This is the way the body uses dietary sugars, fats and proteins to provide the energy and building blocks needed to ensure the proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs. As pregnancy progresses, women develop insulin resistance, becoming diabetic-like. This is to ensure plenty of glucose reaches the baby and…

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Taking paracetamol during pregnancy may affect the child’s behaviour in early years

Taking paracetamol during pregnancy may affect the child’s behaviour in early years shutterstock Aleksandra Gigowska/Shutterstock In the early 1960s, thousands of babies were born with malformed limbs as a result of their mother taking thalidomide – a drug used to treat morning sickness. The tragedy rocked the medical establishment and made doctors wonder what other drugs might have foetus-harming effects. Several studies were launched to try to spot other foetus-harming (teratogenic) drugs. However, these studies were based on the assumption that any harm would be obvious at birth or soon after. So subtle effects, or those where an effect would not be obvious until the child was older (a teenager or even an adult), would be unlikely to be spotted. More recently, scientists have begun to wonder whether paracetamol (a…

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