Reading lots of scientific studies enables us to bring you the very best, especially on the subjects of health and the environment, which can affect health. Occasionally stories come up that seem to add to our knowledge of the human body and disease, while others are just weird! Here is a selection of the health news stories from 2018, some that we covered and others that passed us by.
January 2018 - Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease found in wild dolphin’s brains.
This study was carried out by scientists from Scotland, Oxford and Florida, who hypothesised that because dolphins are long-lived mammals after reproductive abilities cease, that they, like humans may be subject to developing Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Through examining the brains of dolphins which had been washed up on Spanish shores and died, the researchers found similar tau protein tangles and beta amyloid plaque as can be found in humans who have died of Alzheimer’s. The scientists acknowledged that it would be difficult to see if dolphins act confused and lose their memories as humans do.
Lovestone, S, et al., Alzheimer’s disease in humans and other animals: A consequence of postreproductive life span and longevity rather than ageing, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, September 2017
February 2018 -The importance of species diversity in bees, increases with the size of area pollination is needed
Studies have taken place, showing that biodiversity is important to help ecosystems work correctly. This study chose to examine a bigger area (more than 3000 km square) for the relationship between crop pollination and biodiversity. The number of different wild bee species needed to pollinate crops successfully increased with the size of territory. The scientists found that more bees than had been predicted by smaller studies would be needed. This is particularly important when considering chemicals that are currently affecting bee populations.
Winfree, R., et al., Species turnover promotes the importance of bee diversity for crop pollination at regional scales, Science, 2018
March 2018 - Home Office denies Medical Cannabis Oil Treatment to Boy
Parents of a 6 year old boy who needed cannabis oil to treat his rare form of epilepsy, pleaded with the Home Office to be able to continue to treat him in the UK. The boy had been taken abroad to the Netherlands and been treated with the oil while there. He had not had a single seizure while spending 24 days in the Netherlands while he could have up to 30 seizures a day when not taking the medicine. After this and another high-profile case, the Government relented and cannabis oil was available for medical use if prescribed by a doctor from November. This applied to the whole of Great Britain.
"Move that van!" Ambulance Crews told
Ambulance staff were also asked to move their ‘van’ in March, while attending a medical emergency in Staffordshire. The ambulance crew also received verbal abuse. The rude note brought nationwide censure and the woman involved was given £100 fine and was evicted from the house she was renting.
April 2018 - High Levels of Hazardous Waste found in Discarded Plastics at Lake Geneva
While the world was watching Blue Planet, alerted to the amount of plastic to be found in the ocean and the effects it had, a team of scientists were examining plastic waste from Lake Geneva, a freshwater lake and finding toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals were now restricted or banned which revealed how old some of the samples were. The scientists found cadmium, lead and mercury, some of which exceeded the maximum permitted levels of the chemicals under EU law and would be hazardous to human health. The scientists concluded that discarded plastic items would cause wildlife the same problems as plastic in the sea. Not only were wildlife at risk from getting tangled in the plastic debris or from swallowing tiny pieces, but the high levels of dangerous chemicals also gave cause for concern.
Montserrat Filella, Andrew Turner, Observational Study Unveils the Extensive Presence of Hazardous Elements in Beached Plastics from Lake Geneva, Frontiers in Environmental Science, 2018; 6
Dark chocolate treats inflammation
Also in April, chocoholics rejoiced at the results of two studies which concluded that dark chocolate could have a positive health benefit for stress levels, mood, inflammation, memory and immunity. The scientists, from the Lorna Linda Adventist Health Sciences Center, studied the effects of chocolate which contained 70% cacao on endocrine, cardiovascular and cognitive health. Further research will be undertaken to discover the mechanisms which enable the cacao to be effective.
Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center. "Dark chocolate consumption reduces stress and inflammation: Data represent first human trials examining the impact of dark chocolate consumption on cognition and other brain functions." ScienceDaily, 24 April 2018
Scientists found that a colony of honeybees worked together in a similar way to the human brain when offered stimuli. The collective response reminded the researchers from Sheffield University of how the brain operates when it needs to take a decision. The scientists used theoretical models to examine how a colony of bees decided where to build a nest. They used knowledge from previous studies which stated that an organism’s response to stimuli can be predicted using mathematical formulae. The honeybees proved that they could work together as one super organism when a decision was needed, and they acted in a similar way to a human brain. This could help scientists to better understand how the brain worked and may encourage other scientists to study colonies of honeybees.
Reina, A., et al., Psychophysical Laws and the Superorganism, Scientific Reports 8, Article Number: 4387, March 2018
Success of the HPV Vaccine
In the same month, a review claimed that the HPV vaccination had been a health success, likely to reduce incidences of cervical cancer for girls who had been given the vaccine. This led to calls for boys to be also given the vaccine, which could prevent other cancers related to the HPV virus. The government announced in the autumn that the program would begin vaccinating boys aged 12-13, which may be as early as the 2019/20 school year, but that they are unlikely to catch up all of the boys who have not been vaccinated since the program began.
Owczarczak-Garstecka, S.C., et al., Online videos indicate human and dog behaviour preceding dog bites and the context in which bites occur, Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1)
Dog Bite Research - using YouTube
Researchers from the University of Liverpool also used YouTube to help research dog bites. They used the video channel to directly observe and analyse situations that had led to dog bites. Some of these videos may have been the subject of bias, but the researchers were able to find out useful information, such as breed type, victims age and gender, which agreed with previous studies. The scientists found out that more than half of the victims were children and infants, and some behaviour prior to the bite including increased tactile contact with a dog or standing or leaning over a dog were more likely to happen before a dog attacked. The study helped scientists to understand how to offer messages to help people avoid being bitten.
June 2018 - Improved equine flu vaccine protects people too
A team of scientists updated the equine flu vaccine for the first time in 25 years, which may have an effect on human health. Equine flu is contagious between horses, and a stable yard with patients, should not be attending horse shows and carry out strict hygiene measures. The disease cannot currently be passed between horses and humans, but in recent years, flu viruses have been mutating and passing between species. The study was only small, but the vaccine was designed to be easily updated when needed.
Martinez-Sobrido, L., et al., Development of a novel equine influenza virus live-attenuated vaccine, Virology, March 2018, Vol.516, pp 76-85
World Cup 2018
The advent of the World Cup in June, brought the hopes and fears of football fans from all over the world, together. Some scientists, from the University of Sussex, studied the effects of winning and losing football games on the emotional health of the fans. They found that the pain of losing was greater than the joy of winning, using an app to measure how fans were feeling. They surveyed 32,000 participants during football matches. Those who actually attended the game felt the pain or joy more strongly, than those who watched the game at home. The scientists found that the anticipation of a game gave a boost of happiness to those fans in the stadium, that being a football fan could be addictive and tribal and that people over-estimated whether their team was likely to win the game.
Dolton, P., MacKerron, G., Is Football a Matter of Life and Death or is it more important than that? NIESR Discussion Paper No.493